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Critics Aside, Grade Scheme Makes Sense

I write in support of the Committee on Academic Performance's proposal to adopt intermediate grading here at MIT. I have read a number of letters and opinions in this space recently opposed to the concept, but frankly, I remain baffled by the arguments they put forward.

Some opponents argue that the finer distinctions will increase student stress. But it only makes sense that stress will be reduced by allowing grades to reflect student performances more accurately. After all, any student who has worked faithfully on a course throughout the semester should feel reassured by the notion that the vagaries of his or her performance on the day of the final exam - with its particular subset of the course material - will not mean the difference of an entire letter grade.

In my three semesters at MIT, I have seen our present grading system savage several students and friends of mine. These experiences leave me no doubt that the cheap thrill of a grade higher than you had hoped for is far outweighed by the devastation of a grade a whole point lower than you are prepared to deal with. In my four undergraduate years elsewhere - at a very competitive institution with plus/minus grading - I did not witness a single such catastrophe. Believe me, the pluses and minuses soften the blows.

Other opponents of intermediate grades appeal to a mature vision of our studies at MIT, suggesting that it is what we learn here, and not the grades we accumulate, that matters. I agree. But students will remain as free under a plus/minus system to concentrate on their education and ignore the A-'s and B+'s as they are now to ignore the A's and B's. Certainly there is no need, as Albert L. Hsu ["Intermediate Grades Would Only Cover Up MIT's Failure," March 7] suggests, to pretend that just because we all got into MIT, we are all taking equal advantage of the scholastic opportunities it offers. Neither our professors, nor the employers and graduate schools, nor even we the students, believe that. I am surprised to have to introduce such homely truths at this stage of the debate. The CAP has the right idea: It is time MIT acknowledged that there are more than three shades of gray between excellence and failure.

Derek W. Fox G