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New Grade Scheme Suggested by CAP

By Jennifer Lane
Staff Reporter

The Committee on Academic Performance has proposed a three-year intermediate grade experiment that would allow faculty members to assign internal pluses and minuses to letter grades, but would limit their use to within MIT.

During the experiment period pluses and minuses assigned would be used by students, advisers, and others in the MIT community to assess student performance more accurately, said Professor Nigel H. M. Wilson PhD '70, chair of the CAP.

The experiment was suggested as a way to find a middle ground on the intermediate grading issue, where students strongly favor the existing grading system but many faculty want to assign grades with greater precision.

With the intermediate grading experiment, the CAP "hopes to win support from both students and faculty by introducing intermediate grades in a benign way, without the threatening aspect" of pluses and minuses being available to people outside MIT or affecting a student's GPA, Wilson said.

A joint subcommittee of the CAP and the Committee on Graduate Special Policy, including faculty and students, would be established to monitor the experiment, Wilson said.

The committee would examine issues such as how often faculty assign intermediate grades and what the impact on students' GPAs would be if the pluses and minuses counted. Also, the group would conduct student surveys in preparation for re-examining the grading situation at the end of the experiment, Wilson said.

At the end of the three-year trial period, which would begin in September, the experiment would be evaluated, Wilson said. After the evaluation, Wilson suggested some possible options:

1/3 implement the experimental idea of internal intermediate grades as a permanent policy,

1/3 change to a complete, public intermediate grading system, or

1/3 drop the idea of intermediate grades completely.

Students, faculty disagree

"Students brought forward concerns primarily on electronic mail on the downside of intermediate grades, pressure, and competitiveness," said Robert L. Jaffe, chair of the faculty. Students' concerns over intermediate grades were also voiced through the recent Undergraduate Association referendum, Wilson said.

"The CAP tried to find a middle ground which will enable us, the faculty and the students, to find out if any of these fears will actually materialize, and at the same time see the virtue of higher grade resolution," Jaffe said.

The CAP conducted a survey of faculty members in March, concluding that 75 percent of faculty members were in favor of an intermediate grading system. "There is no solution that will accommodate everyone's first choice," Jaffe said.

"The committee used its wisdom and creativity to find an attractive experiment, and we hope this will be greeted by the whole community with support," Jaffe said.

The proposal was approved by the Committee on Undergraduate Performance last Wednesday and will be discussed at the April 19 faculty meeting pending approval by the Committee on Graduate Special Policy on Tuesday.

"We don't expect a problem with the CGSP," Wilson said.