Students hesitant about grading proposals

YCC grading survey

In the days leading up to the April faculty meeting, at which professors will consider changing Yale College grading policies, members of the committee that proposed the changes met with roughly 60 students for nearly three hours Wednesday evening.

At the forum, which was hosted by the Yale College Council and included members of the Yale College Ad-Hoc Committee on Grading, students shared questions and concerns about the committee’s preliminary report. The document, initially presented at the February Yale College faculty meeting, states that 62 percent of grades awarded at Yale College last spring fell in the A-range, and recommends measures to combat this grade compression, including a transition from a letter-grade system to a 100-point scale and a rubric for grade distribution.

If adopted, the changes will come into effect in the 2014–’15 academic year. But student opinion at the event had no clear consensus, and YCC Vice President Danny Avraham ’15 said at the end of the forum that he thinks the faculty should postpone their vote.

“The proposed changes could have a huge effect on every aspect of Yale, not only academically but also on the social culture,” said Avraham. “Given the complexity of the issue, we really think it’s important that as many students as possible get the chance to voice their opinions.”

Avraham opened the meeting by presenting results from an ongoing survey conducted by the YCC about the committee’s preliminary report. Seventy-nine percent out of approximately 1,700 students surveyed said they were against the committee’s proposal to move to a numerical system, and the same percentage stated that they believed the effects of changes proposed in the report would be negative.

During the open forum, students in attendance posed questions to the committee on topics ranging from the theory of grading at Yale to the potential ramifications of a 100-point scale on Yale’s collaborative culture.

Economics professor Ray Fair, who chairs the faculty committee and stayed in the Linsly-Chittenden lecture hall until about 10 p.m. to respond to students, said he and the committee think extreme grade compression in the upper levels is detrimental to students because it renders grades less effective as evaluative tools. Though Fair said he appreciates students’ concerns about a 100-point system, he added that he does not think grade compression can be reduced without a change in the way grades are evaluated.

“Many of us perceive a problem, and we’re trying to figure out how to deal with it,” Fair said. “We think by changing the units [of evaluation], signaling a change of regime, having distribution guidelines that hopefully will be roughly followed and having information available to the public, there might be change.”

Fair added that discrepancies across departments and differences in class formats make it difficult to find a proposal that can address the problem completely. He said he will convey his conversation with students to the faculty at next week’s meeting and take the perspectives expressed in the forum into account while finalizing the report, noting that many students think Yale’s current grade distributions are problematic.

Fair said he would also include the results of the YCC’s survey in his presentation, though he added that he thinks they might be skewed by sample size and framing of the questions.

Avraham said the YCC’s Academics Committee was concerned by the lack of student representation on the Ad-Hoc Grading Committee and the absence of faculty members from large humanities and social science departments, including Political Science and History, which he thinks would be most affected by the proposed changes because they draw greater numbers of students. The committee was made up of a representative from the Office of Institutional Research, five professors from science and social science departments, Dean of Academic Affairs Mark Schenker, a German professor and an East Asian languages and literatures professor.

He said he hopes voting on the committee’s proposal will be postponed until after April’s faculty meeting so that the committee has more time to consider and solicit student input.

“We’re extremely appreciative for Professor Fair’s time and patience listening to students at the open forum for nearly three hours,” Avraham said in an email after the forum. “However, the committee should have been willing to hold this event in October, November, December or January, when they began their process, and not one week before the vote on their proposal. In less than a week until the vote they do not have the time nor the ability to truly consider the myriad of ideas that were conveyed.”

Yale College Dean Mary Miller emailed the preliminary report of the Ad-Hoc Committee on Grading to students on Feb. 19.

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