One year after the School of Management announced controversial changes to its grading policy, students have mixed opinions on the new conventions, which took effect this past fall.

Before these grading changes took effect, students at the SOM received grades on a four-tier scale of “distinction,” “proficient,” “pass” and “fail,” with only grades of distinction appearing on students’ transcripts. In February 2014, however, the SOM administration announced a new policy to rework the grading system names and delineations. The proposed changes also called for a curve so that set percentages of students had to earn certain grades and required transcripts to include all of students’ grades, not just their top marks.

However, after widespread student opposition to the announcement, the SOM held two town hall meetings and on April 7, 2014 announced two amendments to the new policies. Specifically, the full transcript disclosure was mitigated to a partial transcript disclosure. Additionally, the administration resolved to solicit feedback from students and alumni for the new names of the grading categories, which ultimately became high honors, honors, proficient, pass and fail. These changes would first impact the MBA Class of 2016, the MAM class of 2015 and all subsequent classes.

But one year later, SOM Deputy Dean Andrew Metrick said the effect that these grading changes will have on the SOM’s culture — which was a topic of much concern in the wake of last year’s announcement — is still uncertain.

“I don’t see any evidence of the effect [the changes have] had on the culture, and I haven’t heard anything from students, but time will tell on that because we only have one class getting these grades,” he said.

Metrick said one of the primary motivations behind implementing the grading changes was a lack of variation in the grades earned by students, warranting a decision to either stop grading altogether or employ a system with more possible grades. In addition, he said the new grading system motivates students to work harder academically and makes it easier for faculty and administration members to identify students who are struggling early on.

Andres Palacios SOM ’16 said he does not think the grading changes have negatively affected the school’s community mentality because students do not share grades with each other.

Tara Anderson SOM ’16 said that she knows some students who were initially disappointed with the grading changes because they had a different expectation about grading at the SOM while they were applying. She said that though she has had an overall positive experience with the new grading system, the curve can be intimidating from a grading perspective.

“I think one thing that’s challenging is in some of our classes like accounting … when only 10 percent of people can achieve high honors and you have a number of people in your class who were accountants before, that makes it feel a little bit unattainable,” she said.

In response to this concern, Metrick said the introduction of an additional higher grade gives students more of a chance to distinguish themselves in these kinds of classroom situations. He also said that the faculty found last year that students who have strong accounting backgrounds do not always perform best in accounting classes and that the same is true for finance and economics.

Shulai Duan SOM ’15 said she has heard from friends in the class of 2016 that the grading changes are effective in motivating students to focus on academics. However, she also said some of these students think the system should reward effort and hard work to a greater degree.

Jessica Gallegos SOM ’16, who is a student government representative, said that although there are no formal structures in place for students to provide feedback to the administration regarding the new grading system, students have been encouraged to talk to their various representatives in student government, who can then bring any concerns to deans and administrators. Though she said she has heard some student feedback on the new grading policies, it has not been overwhelming.

“People talk about it as much as any other thing that impacts student life,” she said.

Metrick said he has not heard much feedback from students about the changes and that members of the administration never planned for them to significantly change student life.

During their first year, SOM students participate in the core curriculum, a selection of fundamental classes in areas pertaining to management.

  • Sasha

    Interesting article. As a prospective MBA student, I have to admit that these grading changes have definitely changed my stance on attending Yale (which was actually my first choice up until now). I don’t have issue with the grade disclosure on transcripts – I think that’s more than reasonable – however, I do think it is unfair to mandate a maximum and minimum % of the class which can achieve certain grades.

  • Sasha

    Moreover, I don’t understand the logic behind Deputy Dean Andrew Metrick’s comment that the new grading changes “makes it easier for faculty and administration members to identify students who are struggling early on”. I don’t see how the creation of new arbitrary grading categories (high honors, honors, proficient, etc) enables Professors to better evaluate a student’s work and whether or not they are struggling? Regardless of what grading ‘category’ or ‘title’ offered to a piece of work, the Professor grading said piece of work should still be able to identify differences in quality from one submission to the next.

    I understand the possible frustration of having limited number of grading categories, as well as the less-than-desirable circumstances that can arise from this, but that issue could’ve been addressed by implementing more/new grading categories without the added grade curve. This would have at least enabled the Professors at Yale SOM to have full discretion on a student’s grades, rather than letting some bodiless-administrative policy handcuff its teaching staff and essentially undermine its Professors’ judgements when it comes to grading their own students.

    Also, in what I deem to be a failed effort to enable more opportunity for students to quote-on-quote “distinguish themselves” from their peers, I feel this new grading methodology at Yale SOM will breed a student culture that is less collaborative and instead more competitive. This, of course, can be viewed as a positive or a negative, depending on your perspective and values. I, for one, label this as a strong negative. The example demonstrated with the accounting class firmly represents the issue and, despite Deputy Dean Metrick’s response that “students with strong accounting backgrounds don’t *always* perform best”, I would be willing to bet that this is the case in the *majority* of circumstances (of course nothing occurs 100% of the time, but doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen *most* of the time!!); personally, I felt that was just a pathetic attempt to skirt-tail this very real issue.

  • Guest

    And (finally), I would argue that Deputy Dean Metrick’s reasoning behind the changes in an attempt to allow students more opportunity to “distinguish themselves” from their peers is faulty.

    Ironically, it stands to argue that this type of strict grading curve actually works to falsely/erroneously distinguish students at Yale SOM insofar that, though the new curve will require the bottom 10% of each class to
    receive grades of either “Fail” or “Pass,” there are undoubtedly some classes in
    which every student – based on the objective, overall quality of their work – deserves a “Proficient” grade or higher.

    By forcing Professors to strictly enforce a grading scheme based on a students performance relative to his/her peers, it breeds a culture of ‘nit-pickiness’ that could lead to situations where students’ grades suffer because of irrelevant personal preference-oriented decisions that would otherwise be deemed irrelevant in assessing one’s overall work product (say, something as negligible as a different powerpoint color scheme that a particular Professor finds less attractive than another). This example is obviously an extreme, but it speaks to the heart of the point.

    I think it is laughable (and actually quite offensive) that this new policy at Yale SOM essentially communicates to every student entering their MBA class that “no matter what, in any particular class you take at this institution, there are 10% of you destined to either fail or receive a lowly pass”.