Grad students oppose letter grades in language classes

Graduate students are trying to change an inconsistent grading system that affects graduate students enrolled in undergraduate language courses.

While students in the graduate school receive grades of “honors,” “high pass,” “pass” or “fail” in courses for their masters programs, they are awarded grades of A-F for language courses they take within Yale College. As language courses are required for many masters programs, graduate students interviewed said the presence of a letter grade on their transcripts catches undue attention from employers and diverts attention away from the student’s performance in their graduate coursework. After compiling a report earlier this semester, the Graduate Student Assembly (GSA) has been reaching out to administrators to advocate for “honors,” “high pass,” “pass” or “fail” grades in their language classes.

“If you’re going to graduate school, your grades should all be on the same scale,” said Saad Ansari GRD ’14, a member of the GSA. “There’s no reason to have them on different scales.”

Ansari said the GSA has had productive discussions with faculty members of language departments over the past several weeks. However, he said the group has not yet made headway with administrators.

Graduate School Associate Dean Pamela Schirmeister said in a Monday email that the current system exists to make language courses more equitable between undergraduates and graduate students.

“A language course is the same whether taken by undergrads or graduate students,” she said. “If undergrads and graduate students are sitting next to each other in the course, there is not reason that they should be evaluated according to different grading scales. They are doing exactly the same work.”

According to the GSA report, which was compiled in February, many graduate students feel that the use of letter grades for language courses makes their transcripts confusing to potential employers.

Lauren Young GRD ’14, one of the GSA representatives who compiled the report, said the fear that employers will take extra notice of language course grades causes graduate students to divert an excessive amount of time to their language studies and away from research and other courses.

“People are more stressed about their language class than any of their other graduate coursework,” she said.

Young said the European and Russian studies program and programs within the Jackson Institute of Global Affairs are most affected by the current grading system because they require students to be proficient in at least one foreign language.

Young added that graduate students also argue that they should not be graded on the same scale as undergraduates for introductory language courses, because unlike undergraduates, they do not receive extra course credits for taking those classes.

The GSA report on language courses grading cited numerous other complaints from students. The change to the A-F scheme occurred in fall 2012 without informing or consulting students and instructors, which caused unnecessary confusion at the end of the semester, Young said.

Laura Leigh Neville GRD ’14, who is pursuing a masters degree in European and Russian studies, said she had hoped the grading scheme would change before she graduated this spring. Still, she said it has not impeded her from finding a job upon graduation.

The proposal to support standardized grading for graduate students in language courses passed in the GSA with 93 percent approval by representatives.

There are 64 representatives on the GSA.

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