Students, admins mull changes to Cr/D/F

Next year, students may be able to decide whether to take a course for credit instead of a grade after the end of the term.

Yale College Dean Mary Miller said she has spoken informally to her colleagues in the Dean’s Office this semester about possible changes to the system, including permitting students to change courses from letter grades to Credit/D/Fail after they see their final grades. Fourteen of 18 students interviewed said they would support a policy that allows Yalies to change from letter grades to the Credit/D/Fail designation because it could decrease pressure to earn high marks, though fewer said the ability to switch should extend to the time when final grades arrive.

“I’m interested in thinking about Credit/D/Fail anew,” Miller said. “I’m just asking myself, ‘Do we deploy these resources in the very best way?’”

Current policy aims to encourage students to branch out and explore fields that they would otherwise avoid, she said. The goal of the Credit/D/Fail option will remain the same, Miller said, though any formal discussion about possible changes to the grading system would not happen until next fall.

Use of the Credit/D/Fail option among students interviewed fell into two distinct categories: Nine of 17 students who have taken courses Credit/D/Fail said they used the option to take a course about an unfamiliar subject, but the rest said they wanted to lighten their course load or avoid a poor grade in a potentially difficult course.

Miller said a benefit of allowing students to convert classes to Credit/D/Fail after the end of term is to “accommodate” a poor finish in a course, but she acknowledged that such a policy could possibly discourage academic experimentation.

Nihal Kayali ’13 was one of 11 students interviewed who said she would appreciate the chance to change grading scales after the semester ends in order to strike a poor grade from her transcript.

“If something goes horribly wrong, you would have the ability to rectify the situation,” Kayali said.

Ashley McCormick ’14 said this change would encourage experimentation, since students would worry less about their grade point averages.

But other students said they disapprove of such a policy because it would undermine the Credit/D/Fail system’s purpose.

“It would send the message that it’s okay to slack off in class,” Alma Zepeda ’12 said.

Professors also expressed skepticism about permitting students to convert final grades to Credit/D/Fail. Five of six interviewed said they would not support such a change. Political science professor Nuno Monteiro said the policy would be a “disaster” since many students who are fixated on earning high marks would eliminate grades they should not otherwise be afraid to keep.

Shelly Kagan, a professor of philosophy, said transcripts would become less valuable to graduate schools and employers.

“All that does is offers protection against having bad grades,” he said. “It robs transcripts of any information.”

Still, the vast majority of students — 14 of 18 undergraduates — and three of six professors said they are open to the idea of allowing the switch to Credit/D/Fail during the semester. Jade Nicholson ’14 said she would have used such an option this semester because she “tanked” the midterm exam in her “Sociology of Crime and Deviance” course, and Blake Zwerling ’12 said the policy would encourage students to complete courses they would now drop under the current regulations.

Proposed changes aside, students and professors described imperfections within the current system. Two students said distributional requirements should be open to the Credit/D/Fail option to encourage non-science majors to take higher-level, more difficult quantitative reasoning or science courses.

“I didn’t even consider taking more physics [after high school] because I didn’t want to take the risk,” Max Mikitish ’13 said.

Kagan said students should be able to see their final letter grades even in courses they elect to take Credit/D/Fail to better gauge their performance. All of the students in Chemistry Director of Undergraduate Studies Kurt Zilm’s general chemistry course are currently taking the class for a grade. Still, Zilm said teaching a course that many students take Credit/D/Fail would confuse his perception of his effectiveness since those students would likely invest less effort.

“I would like to know who to count and who not to count,” he said. “That can drag down the overall character of the class.”

This spring, 59 percent of students enrolled in “Constitutional Law” registered the course as Credit/D/Fail at the beginning of the semester — the largest proportion of any course with an enrollment over 25.

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