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On weenie profs and other grading concerns

Readers respond to “Grade Deflation or Not?”

Last week’s article on grading at BU was one of BU Today’s best read stories and generated several thoughtful letters. In the interest of continuing the discussion of an important University issue, we share these letters below. Let us know how you feel about University-wide grading policies by voting in today’s quick poll.

 

Weenie theory disputed
I enjoyed the article on grade deflation. However, I just want to comment on the “they are just weenies” quote by Wayne Snyder. I have met with many a professor at BU — high-ranking professors with tenure, some of whom are also in dean appointments and are highly published and funded and have no need to worry about their jobs. I received an A- in the class of a particular professor, and she brought up deflation when we were talking about BU in general. She’s not a weenie. I got a good grade, she’s in a stable career, and yet she brought up the deflation. No need to cover herself for anything. I’ve heard the argument that professors are just covering themselves from administration. It is important to keep in mind who is pointing fingers. Saying a professor is covering him/herself takes the pressure off the administrator. Just thought I’d bring that up.

Joe Lippi (CAS’07)

 

Grading policies stymie knowledge sharing
I am a student in SMG, where grade redistribution is used widely. Although I would agree that the cases of grade deflation are much more rare than those of grade inflation, I believe that by grading students against their peers, the university creates an environment that stymies the sharing of knowledge. Students should be graded for the quality of the work they submit and push their peers to achieve more rather than benefit from seeing their classmates fail.

Giancarlo Talarico (SMG’08)

Contextual transcripts just the beginning
Thanks for Chris Berdik’s thorough article about grading. I have long advocated “contextual transcripts,” and I was happy to see that idea discussed. Not only is it important with respect to cross-institutional comparison, but also within the same institution for comparison between departments/colleges. (I am in the chemistry department, hence that comment should come as no surprise.)

What I advocate (in addition to providing the median GPA associated with each course for which a grade is reported) is reporting the number of students involved in the pool that generated the median. Another piece of valuable information that might be helpful, but perhaps burdensome for some faculty to provide, is a class rank. I always offer this statistic when writing recommendations for students who have taken my courses. In this era of automation, it would at least be very easy for the registrar to compute the approximate rank based on the letter-grade distribution (which is already available to faculty as a histogram for the grades they submit). 

Finally, I have to mention something that Berdik did not, namely the pressure put on faculty — especially in the “hard” sciences — to push grades over critical thresholds. In an attempt to raise standards (“rigor”), many programs establish cut-off GPAs and set them at what many faculty members would consider unrealistically high levels. Instead of the desired effect of improving performance, this often fuels the kind of protest against
(hypothetical) grade deflation that Berdik describes. When such standards are inflexibly applied, many students feel ill-used, especially if the gap between the student’s performance and the standard is very small. (I once had a student who lost his prestigious merit-based scholarship because of a deficiency of 0.005 or so in his GPA!) I hope you will continue to follow up on this issue; much of the confusion and anger surrounding it is fed by misinformation and ignorance. It’s refreshing to have the facts and attributed opinions, and updates would be valuable.

Scott Mohr, CAS professor of chemistry

Students should work harder, whine less
As a senior in international relations, I read the article about grade deflation very seriously. In short, I think it is still fair to keep the GPA lower for the sake of BU’s prestige. There are two points I would like to make. First of all, in many classes exams and essay assignments are relatively straightforward (it’s easy to understand what professors want). I transferred from the University of San Francisco, where I had to write a 15-page paper for every single class, and most of the time I had to hand in several small papers in addition (5 to 8 pages). BU’s courses are not that hard compared to them. Second, although some midterm exams are graded very strictly, you are welcome to discuss your weak points with your professors or TFs. (Attention, do not argue the “lowness” of grades!!) In most cases, you are able to get a better grade on the final exam. Use TFs, ERC tutors, and professors! You are paying them to learn, but most of you do not show up during office hours, and make exactly the same mistakes on the final as you made on the midterm! Don’t blame your professors. I am saying this because my GPA has not changed that much from USF (3.8) to BU (3.7), and as you may have noticed, my first language in NOT English!!

Tom Hashimoto (CAS’06)