NEWS’ VIEW: Opening the gradebook

The first of two views on Yale College’s grading policy.

When it comes to grading at Yale College, our administrators would do well to remember the old adage: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

And with the information we currently have, we cannot be sure what’s actually broken, if anything, about grading at Yale.

The humanities and social sciences have a reputation for easy grading, but without data, we cannot be sure where grade inflation actually exists. We see some Yalies flock to “gut” lectures in political science and economics, but without data, we cannot be sure how easy these classes really are. We hear students in the hard sciences complain about harsh grading and opaque standards, but without data, their concerns cannot be verified.

These rumors pervade our culture, creating stigmas and stereotypes that manipulate the classes we choose and majors we declare.

It is time to get the data we need. We must pull back the curtain and expose the mystery that is grade distribution at Yale College.

By releasing an annual report to the public — detailing the overall distribution of grades and mean grade point average in each major — we can talk honestly and openly with each other and University administrators about the culture of grading we see. This report must be released before any decision is made, especially in light of the recently proposed 100-point scale and guidelines governing grade distribution.

As last week’s report from the Ad-Hoc Committee on Grading discussed, students may switch out of classes and majors they perceive as grading too harshly. Releasing a grade report will debunk false perceptions, aligning student expectations with reality. But if huge grade disparities do exist amongst the majors, department chairs and professors will need to consider how their individual choices in grading compare to those of their colleagues.

Publicizing the distribution of grades across the majors might lead to downward pressure on departments with higher grades. But at the same time, it can exert an upward force on grade point averages in departments with overly rigorous grading.

Finding an equilibrium in grading across the College should not require instituting grade deflation, nor should it mean having department chairs and directors of undergraduate studies impose arbitrary standards on their professors. What it does mean, however, is encouraging professors and chairs to address their department’s grading standards frankly, defending their policies when necessary.

Most importantly, though, a grade report will free students to choose majors and classes they truly love, without the burden of perceived academic reputation or grading disparities.

Releasing a grade distribution report is a simple step toward transparency. Such a gesture can signal an administration that wants to include its students in a conversation about grading — before the University irrevocably harms our academic culture.

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