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Grades an Imperfect Measure of Academic Performance

Grades are an approximate measure of academic performance.

The grading process is not very accurate. It frequently does not measure valuable skills important in engineering, like creativity and insight. Additionally, grades measure, to a certain extent, factors somewhat irrelevant to real world ability. These include physical endurance to stressful working conditions and mental compliance to repetitive, uncreative tasks. Furthermore, the present system misrepresents grades as being more accurate than they really are. It also causes students to misdirect their efforts in an attempt to achieve higher grades rather than learning the material more efficiently and effectively.

The Committee on Academic Performance is considering a proposal to increase the precision with which grades are reported. Precision and accuracy are very different things - they must not be confused. You don't increase accuracy by increasing precision. If you try, you will simply further misrepresent the measurement as being more accurate than it really is. This would exacerbate any present degree of misrepresentation.

The CAP should not waste time trying to increase the precision of grades. Instead, they should try to increase grading accuracy and decrease misrepresentation of grading accuracy. This would be a more helpful effort. There are a number of possibilities in this area:

Advise and assist faculty in making grading a more accurate process. What exactly are grades supposed to measure? How should these measurements be made accurately and fairly?

Print a disclaimer on official transcripts describing the limit of accuracy of grades as a measure of performance.

Develop a system for reports from Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program projects and lab classes to be included as part of a "portfolio" of students' abilities, which should be a part of the students' official records.

Students, advisors, and faculty should also be able to insert comments into the official record referencing specific course grades.

Explaining the student's performance in the course and defending or refuting the accuracy of the grade.

There are many other possibilities to expand on these concepts. Just don't worsen the present problem by trying to attack the symptoms.

Mike Jacknis '97