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'Experiment' or De Facto Policy?

Three years ago, the Committee on the Undergraduate Program inaugurated what was then billed a three-year experiment in intermediate +/ modifiers on grades. The modifiers were to be internal only. This year, the deadline for determining what would be done came and went; ultimately, the CUP and the faculty were unprepared to decide the issue, and they have postponed it until the fall.

At this point, it is unclear whether the decision to postpone a vote on intermediate grades was intentional or merely the result of poor organization. Nevertheless, the continuation of the +/ grading experiment is unfortunate.

The last three years have provided ample time for considering student and faculty views about intermediate grades. There has been plenty of time over the spring term to consider the issue. Last fall, an online survey gathered undergraduates' opinions on the matter, and there has been plenty of time to examine the results of this survey.

Postponing the issue until fall demonstrates the faculty's lack of concern about issues that matter to the student body. Students have regularly expressed misgivings over intermediate grades. Student opposition to intermediate grades was intense when the experiment began. Three years later little has changed. Students believe that if intermediate grades were included on their transcripts, academic pressure would increase. Ultimately, increasing the resolution of grades - internally or externally - does nothing to improve the education the Institute provides to its students.

A final problem with continuing the grading experiment for six more months is that the experiment is slowly becoming a de facto policy. The longer the experiment continues, the greater the inertia. Soon, no students at MIT will remember a time without internal intermediate grades. Consequently, students' input will be less and less informed as time passes, and their ability to intelligently compare grading systems will decline.

MIT has done an admirable job collecting student input. Now is the time to act on that input. If intermediate grades are to be kept, they should remain a purely internal device and not appear on student transcripts.