NEWS’ VIEW: Closing the gradebook

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

Transparency in grading at Yale College will lead to a healthier academic community — one in which grading across the departments is even, and students do not leave majors due to disparities in difficulty.

Once this college-wide equilibrium has been reached, students who achieve academic excellence will be impossible to miss. Public pressure will keep Yale from embarking on a runaway train of higher and higher, or lower and lower, grades.

But the further recommendations of the Ad Hoc Committee — those suggestions designed to make our current grading system artificially harder — are antithetical to the culture of our College.

Replacing letters with numbers and suggesting grade distributions can do nothing but create a culture of academic competition.

Yalies, unlike students at so many other Ivy League schools, reject academic competition. We do not believe that we gain from the loss of others, or that academic success is a zero-sum game. We collaborate. We share notes with our ill classmates, and we help our friends tackle that last tricky question on our problem sets. But the competition that occurs at other universities does not occur because those students are inherently malevolent. Rather, deflated grade distributions foster a culture of competition, which forces students to view their education as direct comparison between peers.

Adopting a system meant to incentivize harder work assumes that students aren’t already working, or that the main goal of our education is to make us work, not make us learn. Ultimately, the core of the liberal arts model means placing trust in students, acknowledging that our primary motivation is not a series of numbers or letters, but knowledge.

And that knowledge comes from so many sources. Our clubs, athletic teams, productions and publications have been the lifeblood of the Yale tradition for generations. Each day, this newspaper reflects an extracurricular vibrancy only possible in a community that forgets cutthroat competition and makes time for real learning — often taking place outside of the classroom.

So the future of grading at Yale College must not entail a drastic overhaul. Rather, a small change can have a lasting impact. We should acknowledge the limits of grades as an evaluative tool, and ensure every professor and teaching fellow gives students consistent qualitative feedback, emphasizing individual growth and long-term development over either letters or numbers devoid of explanation.

With transparency, but without deflation, we will find a balance. As a company of scholars, we must speak out to preserve the culture we knew we could find only at Yale — before our College accepts the numerical and distributional recommendations of the Ad Hoc Committee on Grading.

Only then will what’s broken truly be fixed.

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