YCC pushes grade transparency

The Yale College Council’s science and engineering subcommittee is advocating for science professors to make information about grading more consistently available to students during the term.

The subcommittee released a report last Thursday based on a February poll of nearly 600 students, many of whom said that science and engineering classes do not provide adequate grading feedback after midterms and final exams. The report recommends requiring professors to use the Classesv2 gradebook, publish grading information after each exam and return final exams. Students and professors had mixed responses to the report’s findings, and administrators said they have yet to consider the proposal.

More than 40 percent of students surveyed said that “none” or “few” — defined as less than 30 percent — of their science courses have published grading information after midterms, such as mean and median raw scores, or percentile groups of raw scores. Forty-four percent of respondents said their courses did not publish final exam grading information at all, and another 30 percent said that “few” of their science courses released this information. More than three-quarters of students surveyed reported that their science professors did not post a grade distribution at the end of the semester.

“A lot of students complained that they didn’t receive a lot of feedback about their raw score grades on their midterms, and they didn’t know where they stood in the class,” said Rohit Thummalapalli ’13, a member of the YCC subcommittee and the author of the report. “We want to eliminate the element of surprise when a student checks their final grade.”

The proposal suggests that professors publish at least the mean and standard deviation of exam scores after midterms and finals, and publish more detailed curve information on Classesv2 in a standardized manner. The report does not recommend that professors provide grade and curve breakdowns at the beginning of a course, but says they should release final exams, final grade distributions and raw score conversions at the end of the semester.

William Segraves, associate dean of science education for Yale College, said he was “very interested to read” the YCC report and has shared it with several directors of undergraduate studies.

“While the specific mechanisms that are appropriate will not be the same for every class, I think it’s very important for instructors to provide feedback to students,” Segraves said. “Most of the instructors whose practices are familiar to me are actually providing pretty extensive feedback.”

Six science professors interviewed said they already share grading information of the type the report recommends with their students. Electrical engineering and applied physics professor Mark Reed said in a Saturday email that he has not noticed a lack of grading transparency in the sciences, adding that the report might reach misleading conclusions “in the absence of solid data.”

Yale College Dean Mary Miller said she has not yet considered the report, but she said it could be “constructive” for professors to discuss grading policies within their departments.

Ecology and evolutionary biology professor Stephen Stearns ’67 also said professors could benefit from “an open discussion of how and why we grade as we do, and what incentives that creates.” He added that he thinks professors should receive more information about grading practices across Yale College.

Seven of 11 science and engineering students interviewed supported the subcommittee’s suggestions, while the other four expressed ambivalence or skepticism toward the report’s recommendations.

Temidayo Aderibigbe ’15 said he never knows how he performs in science classes relative to his peers, adding that implementing the YCC’s recommendations would “definitely be helpful.”

But Mehdi Lazrak ’14 said grade transparency is a secondary concern to other issues in science classes, such as grade deflation and workload imbalances.

“The main problem in the sciences and engineering is the big attrition rate in those majors coming from bigger problems in grading,” he said.

Professors and students interviewed also noted that grading transparency is not a problem confined to the sciences. Ilya Uts ’13 and Leah Campbell ’15 said issues of grade transparency may even be more severe in non-science departments, where assignments rarely receive numerical grades.

Thummalapalli said the YCC focused on the sciences because that is the domain of the subcommittee that prepared the report. In the future, he said efforts should be made to address the issue in the humanities as well.

The science and engineering subcommittee was created last October, and this is its first report.

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