The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 57.0°F | Fog

Grading Proposal Debated at Forum

By A. Arif Husain
Staff Reporter

Students expressed varying opinions on a proposed intermediate grading system at an open forum at last night's Undergraduate Association Council meeting in W20-400.

About 50 students and several faculty members attended the forum, which featured Professor Nigel H. M. Wilson PhD '70, Chair of the Committee on Academic Performance. The meeting was held to present a status report and background on the proposal, and to give CAP members an opportunity to obtain student input, Wilson said.

The proposed changes involve adding divisions to increase the resolution in letter grades, Wilson said. Currently, between 80 and 85 percent of students fall in the A to B range, Wilson said. He questioned whether it is appropriate for a single grade to cover such a wide range of performance.

Wilson viewed the proposed change as a fairly modest initiative, not a massive review of all aspects of grading. He also said that the system would not have any impact on grade inflation.

The proposal attempts to focus on a fairly narrow question, and can be viewed in isolation of other aspects of the grading system, Wilson said.

Specifically, Wilson encouraged students to voice their opinions on the advantages and disadvantages of any change, and the method of change that would be most suitable.

While reactions where mixed, most were opposed to the new system.

"I think this will be a drastic change," said Hui C. Joo '95, a student member of CAP. Joo, like several others, felt that the new system would divert emphasis toward grades at the expense of learning.

UA Vice President Carrie R. Muh '96 said that stricter grading would discourage peer support, which she felt is a very important aspect of education. "With larger groupings you are much more willing to help out other people in the class with you," she said.

Other students discussed the relevance of grades to evaluation of personal performance. Some felt intermediate grades would give a more detailed assessment while others felt such grades could be misleading to employers and other schools.

"Perhaps an institute-wide grading policy may not be appropriate," said Albert L. Hsu '96, who advocated the use of intermediate grades on an internal level. Such a policy would allow self-evaluation while avoiding the drawbacks of permanent intermediate grades, Hsu said.

This argument was made particularly in regard to humanities, arts, and social science classes, which several students argued are graded more subjectively and would not fairly accommodate the intermediate grades. In such classes, however, a few students felt that intermediate grades would allow professors to include effort and progress in their grading schemes.

According to Margery Resnick, associate professor of foreign languages and literature and CAP member, all of the 34 professors in her department felt uniformly that they have no means of recording effort. "If a student has a B or B+ average, they are quite different from a student that has a B-. [Intermediate grades] would give people who read [student] transcripts a sense of where you put your effort," Resnick said.

"We think that students who work hard and put in an effort should be rewarded," she said.

Some students in favor

Students who favored the new grading system felt it would be a good preparation for real-life situations.

"If we don't foster [a competitive] environment that [students] can strive for more, then they are at a disadvantage," UA presidential candidate Sheldon W. Myrie '95 said.

"More divisions might perturb me more but it would make me get over this desire to be the best," Cindy W. Fung '96 said.

Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics Paul A. Lagace '78 claimed that intermediate grading may potentially decrease pressure on students. "People on the borderline don't have to push so far. I think that can be a release in pressure," Lagace said.

Evaluation of grading still preliminary

Last night's meeting, which was the first of a recent plan to sponsor open forums by the UAC, is part of an ongoing process, Wilson said.

The input from the forum will be considered by CAP along with information gathered from other students and faculty. CAP will then decide whether to recommend a new policy, and present their decision to the Faculty Policy Committee, Wilson said. If a policy is proposed, it will be subject to a vote at next month's general faculty meeting.

"It's fairly clear that if there's a change, it will be Institute-wide," affecting both undergraduates and graduates, Wilson said. "It's very clear that it will be introduced effective a certain date. It could be four years in the future, or next September," he said.