Students decry grading changes

As the faculty considers an overhaul of Yale’s current undergraduate grading system, students are beginning to voice opposition to the recommendations.

At Thursday’s Yale College faculty meeting, professors will vote on the proposals of the Yale College Ad-Hoc Committee on Grading, which recommends that Yale adopt a 100-point grading scale and suggests a rubric of grade distributions. Since Yale College Dean Mary Miller released the committee’s preliminary report to undergraduates in February, students have been raising concerns over the implications of the proposed changes on academics and student life.

The Yale College Council released an official response to the committee’s proposals on Sunday, calling for faculty to reject or vote to postpone the committee’s proposals, while an independent petition urging the faculty to reject the proposal has raised over 1,200 signatures since it was sent out Monday. And on Thursday, students will stage a protest outside Davies Auditorium, where the faculty meeting will take place.

”These proposals would influence immediate lives of Yalies, but also the admissions process — instead of being a collaborative school, we would become much more competitive,” said Danny Avraham ’15, YCC vice president and chair of the YCC Academics Committee. “The obsession that might evolve to get that 100 might also take away from other extracurricular activities, which are for many a valuable part of the Yale experience.”

Economics professor Ray Fair, who chaired the committee on grading, said the group considered student opinion while finalizing the report and will present student concerns at the meeting. Still, he added that any ultimate decision will fall on the faculty.

The YCC response cites three principal causes for student concern: the lack of student representation on the grading committee, flaws in the committee’s composition and research objectives, and failure to address student concerns adequately. Avraham said that student opinion was not considered until after the report was already compiled. According to a survey conducted by the YCC and included in the council’s report, 79 percent of 1,760 respondents said they are opposed to the proposed grading changes and the same percentage feel the changes would negatively impact the University.

Avraham also said the grading committee — which 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 — did not adequately represent the interests of different departments because it did not include representatives from large departments like Political Science and History. Avraham added that he feels the report focused too heavily on the superficial problems of grade compression without examining the causes for the trends.

“We hoped to have seen a much more profound discussion on the philosophy of grading and grading differences within each department,” Avraham said.

The YCC report is not the only forum through which students have expressed opposition. Scott Stern ’15, a columnist for the News, is organizing a protest against the proposal. After the YCC released the preliminary results of its survey, Stern emailed the Yale community, encouraging students to voice their disagreement to their professors.

Stern said he feels the proposed changes will change Yale’s atmosphere for the worse.

“This would make Yale a stressful, cutthroat, competitive, grade-grubbing, number-driven environment,” Stern said. “I think they are looking to fix a problem that does not exist.”

On Monday evening, Josh Kalla ’14 and Baobao Zhang ’13, a former multimedia editor for the News, launched an online petition protesting the grading change, which has already attracted 1,287 signatures as of press time.

Though faculty members interviewed expressed mixed views on the proposal, student response was largely negative. Eight of 10 students interviewed said they are opposed to the changes.

Alexandra Torresquintero ’16 said she thinks a 100-point scale will force professors to quantify the academic merit of work that may be unquantifiable, adding that the difference between a 93 or a 94 on an essay would only make grading more arbitrary.

Candice Gurbatri ’14 said the proposed changes would be particularly harmful for science students, because they would reduce science majors’ willingness to work collaboratively.

“If you’re pitting students against each other with numerical grading policy, you’re not going to get the engagement and intellectual curiosity and all of those things that really define Yale,” Gurbatri said. “The sciences are already very competitive, and I definitely think doing this would make it more competitive because now students will be grubbing for that one point.”

According to the committee on grading’s preliminary report, 62 percent of grades awarded in Yale College last spring fell in the A-range.

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