Grading policy discussions enter Senate and House Councils
Published: Friday, April 27, 2012
Updated: Friday, April 27, 2012 07:04
There is an ongoing effort by the Committee on Curriculum and Academic Policy (CCAP) to make the College grading policy more accessible to students. Starting in March, student representatives from CCAP and Provost Andrew Shennan appeared at Senate to present the grading policy and take questions from members of student government. CCAP student representatives are also currently attending both Senate meetings and House Councils to present the policy.
Now as the academic year draws to a close, many students who are filling out applications for internships, jobs and graduate schools have voiced concerns over how the grading policy at Wellesley may affect their success outside of school.
“I was applying to BCG (Boston Consulting Group), which is a top management consulting firm,” one anonymous senior recalled. “I talked to a partner there, and he said, ‘You have all the credentials,’ as I have taken intensive economics and math classes, studied several foreign languages and have had relevant finance internships. But he said, ‘I can’t offer you an interview because of your GPA...’ My GPA is a 3.3, which is above average for economics majors. This was disheartening because I feel I have worked very hard at Wellesley.”
According to the student, this type of interaction is not uncommon amongst seniors applying to postgraduate opportunities.
In response to an online survey administered by the Wellesley News, 62.4 percent of the respondents stated that they considered grade deflation a problem at Wellesley. When asked to rate their level of support for a grade deflation policy, 69.7 percent of the respondents replied that they were either “adamantly opposed” or “somewhat opposed” to a grade deflation policy. Only 4.7 percent replied that they were “very supportive.” A total of 86 students responded to the questionnaire.
While these results demonstrate a widely negative response to grade deflation, two respondents objected to the use of the term “grade deflation” to describe the grading policy at Wellesley. CCAP officials and student representatives agree with this sentiment.
“It’s pretty clear to me that there’s a widespread misunderstanding of what the grading policy is,” Richard French, dean of academic affairs, stated. “When we hear the phrase ‘grade deflation policy,’ it conjures up the tone that students earn a grade, and then once they’ve earned their A-, it’s turned into a B. That’s not at all what the policy is supposed to be.”
The official grading standards, approved by the Academic Council in 2003 and reaffirmed in 2008 and 2011, state that the average grade in 100- and 200-level courses with ten or more students should be no higher than 3.33, or a B+. However, if an instructor in such a course wishes to award a class a higher average, he or she may submit an explanation to the chair of CCAP. That professor will not be subject to negative consequences as a result of his or her request. The policy does not require professors to grade on a curve, nor does it set a quota on the number of A’s a professor may give out.
Student CCAP representatives Roshan Prakash ’13 and Gauri Subramani ’12 share the concern that there is a widespread misunderstanding of the policy. Yet when asked how familiar they feel with the Wellesley grading policy, approximately 24% of the survey respondents stated that they were familiar enough to explain the policy in detail, and 50% of the respondents stated that they were familiar with most aspects of the policy.
The grading policy and its history go public
Regardless of students’ confidence in their understanding of the policy, CCAP members have made additional efforts to publicize the grading policy both to students and professors, as well as to graduate schools and employers, in order to resolve any misconceptions.
Wellesley pre-law advisors and medical school advisors have been in close contact with the deans of medical schools, law schools and graduate school admissions offices across the country. Rather than the half-slip of paper which has traditionally accompanied student transcripts, the office of the registrar will now distribute an official full-length letter signed by the Provost which describes the grading policy. CCAP recently launched a “Frequently Asked Questions” page on its official website.
“Our goal is to address student concerns about the grading policy,” Subramani stated. “As long as it exists, students should have correct and accurate information, and the administration needs to be the one that’s held responsible for giving students that information.”
Many of those in favor of the grading policy emphasize its importance in maintaining the value of the Wellesley degree, which many believed had dropped substantially as a result of rapid grade inflation. By the year 2000, almost three-quarters of the senior class at Wellesley were graduating with Latin honors, and according to French, Wellesley had the highest GPA of any private liberal arts school in the country by the year 2004.
“By some appearances that seems like it’s not necessarily a bad thing,” French stated. “But some of us in the faculty have [had] people approach us and say, ‘Don’t send us any more Wellesley students,’ because the students... looked good on paper because of their GPA, but didn’t work out as well [in person].”
“Of the top schools in the country, Wellesley was the one that ended up looking like the schools where grades meant less, where you could do better,” Hana Glasser ’15, Pomeroy senator and recently elected chair of communications and CG finances, explained.
In addition to maintaining an institutional reputation, administrators hoped the grading policy would even out the discrepancies in grading practices among different departments. In 2004, for instance, average grades in the sciences were significantly lower than average grades in the humanities.