Faculty discuss shopping period, grading policies

At the first Yale College faculty meeting of the spring semester, professors returned to two key issues that initially emerged in October’s meeting — shopping period uncertainty and Yale’s grading policies.

The Teaching, Learning and Advising Committee proposed five new rules intended to minimize ambiguity during shopping period following a report released in May 2012 detailing how uncertainty during the first several weeks of the semester adversely affects students and faculty members. Faculty at the meeting approved the new rules, but the proposals will not go into effect until the 2014–’15 academic year. Also at the meeting, the ad hoc committee on grading policy — commissioned by Yale College Dean Mary Miller earlier this fall — presented a preliminary report on its findings, which will be discussed in more detail at April’s faculty meeting.

“I think these guidelines will help remove much of the uncertainty surrounding shopping period,” Miller said. “It’s not a perfect system, but it will help students and faculty with the uncertainty at the beginning of the term and encourage earlier decision-making.”

Beginning in fall 2014, all professors will post their preliminary syllabi online at least a week before the course begins, students will submit an online nonbinding preliminary schedule before classes start, all course schedules will be due on the same day and a five-day schedule amendment period — in which students can add or drop one course as well as elect to enroll in a course Credit/D/Fail — will be added to the schedule.

Miller said some faculty members voiced skepticism about the effectiveness of these new rules and that the vote was not unanimous, but she added the final count was a clear affirmative decision.

Another major topic discussed during the meeting was Yale College’s grading policies, as the Committee on Grading — chaired by economics professor Ray Fair — presented its preliminary research and proposals to stimulate further discussion on the University’s grading policies, Miller said.

The Committee on Grading’s report began with a thorough examination of the purpose of grades, then examined grade data to show both internal Yale grading trends and the trends at similar institutions throughout the country. The committee found that grades have increasingly been compressed at the top of the GPA rubric, with A’s, A-minuses and B-pluses being “in effect [the] only three grades used” in many departments.

In light of the grading trend, the committee proposed measures intended to increase grading transparency across departments and move Yale from a letter-grade system to a numerical system out of 100. Fair said this change would benefit students and professors by eliminating the “cliffs” that make differences between a B-plus and an A-minus a large jump under the current grading system while providing a clear way for the University to curb potential grade inflation.

“The more choices you have in grading, the fewer problems you’re going to have,” Fair said. “If you’re going to change the system at Yale from what we now have with respect to the clustering of A’s and A-minuses, you’re probably going to have to change the units of currency.”

Miller and Fair said they think the Grading Committee’s presentation was met with approval by the faculty, and both expressed enthusiasm about continuing the conversation in April.

Fair said he and the committee will spend the next two months addressing concerns and questions from faculty and students regarding the Grading Committee’s initial report. The committee plans to submit concrete proposals for a vote at April’s faculty meeting.

Yale College faculty meetings are held on the first Thursday of each month.

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