ROSEN: Reform Credit/D/Fail

Looking Left

At the end of next week, students will be bombarded with emails reminding them of the Nov. 8 deadline to convert their courses from the Credit/D/Fail option to a letter grade. The current policy was set in 2004, as part of a faculty decision mandating that students could no longer fulfill distributional requirements with courses taken Credit/D/Fail. But a problem with this policy has become evident — the deadline for conversion is far too early.

In most classes, grades at this point in the semester are not necessarily indicative of final grades. Many classes have second or third midterms remaining. Other classes assign grades based on cumulative assignments near the end of the semester. Some professors even take into account improvement throughout the semester when calculating final grades. With over a month remaining in the semester, students’ grades are bound to change.

Next week’s deadline forces students to make early decisions regarding courses they have elected to take Credit/D/Fail. My classmates will carefully examine problem sets, papers and exams in an attempt to project what their final grades will likely be. Since most Yale students place a high value on their GPAs, they may keep classes Credit/D/Fail but ultimately end up happy with their performances. Without an accurate grade projection available, many students will opt to play it safe and not convert their grades.

Once the conversion deadline passes, incentive to perform well in classes being taken Credit/D/Fail drops tremendously. This is especially true in cases where the student was seriously considering converting the grade, and thus was putting in significant effort for the first part of the semester. Students in this position may feel that the amount of work they put in prior to the deadline will be enough to keep them above the D cutoff.

If the deadline to convert from Credit/D/Fail to letter grades were pushed to a later point in the semester, students would likely work harder in their courses for a longer period of time. It is reasonable to assume that some students would choose to convert to letter grades after having put in this additional work.

The YCC has been submitting recommendations for years on this topic. In 2007, they proposed that students should be able to wait to convert to a letter grade until after final course grades were available. Four years after that, they proposed that the deadline to initially declare a course Credit/D/Fail be three weeks later. And in 2012, the YCC proposed that the deadline to convert a class to a letter grade be pushed back. This year, the YCC has requested that the Teaching, Learning and Advising Standing Committee put Credit/D/Fail policy reform on the agenda for their 2014-’15 meeting. It’s clear that the student body is not content with the current policy.

All three of the previously proposed YCC policies were rejected. A common administrative response to the suggestions was that they did not focus on the role of the Credit/D/Fail option in encouraging academic exploration. According to administrators, the suggestions were more concerned with protecting students’ GPAs.

The Credit/D/Fail option does primarily exist to allow students to explore different subjects, and that is how most use the system. This does not mean, however, that policies regarding Credit/D/Fail should ignore the fact that students care about maintaining their GPAs. As much as some faculty and administrators may wish that students would focus less on their grades, the fact of the matter is that our GPAs do matter. Given that they are used in determining admission to graduate school, post-graduate employment and more it would be concerning if students were not worried about their grades. The administrative committees that continue to reject Credit/D/Fail reform proposals need to consider the possibility that GPA protection is not inherently a bad reason to reform the system.

It can be argued that pushing back the conversion deadline will lead to grade inflation. But it can also be argued that the reverse is the case. If fewer classes are taken Credit/D/Fail, professors might end up distributing more B or B+ grades. The fact of the matter is, it’s nearly impossible to predict what the exact result of this policy change would be.

What is clear, however, is that students are unhappy with the present policy. It is time for the administration to seriously consider the proposals the YCC is handing them.

Diana Rosen is a sophomore in Pierson College. Contact her at diana.rosen@yale.edu.

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