Three years since the Residential College began administering
letter grades in addition to written evaluations, the system has
earned both the praise and critcism of students. The change, which
began in the fall of 2001, excludes pre-proficiency language
courses. For the first time in RC history, professors assigned
letter grades to students.

RC Student Services Assistant Charlie Murphy arrived after the
administration chose to make the changes, but witnessed its
implementation.

“There was a lot of resistance at the time but as you
bring in each new entering class of students who come in under the
new grading basis they don’t have anything to compare it
against,” he said. “People don’t seem to have a
problem with it in the vast majority of cases.”

Since its inception in 1967, the RC relied on professors to
compose written evaluations for its students. Without a standard
grading system, graduates of the RC lacked a grade point average to
submit to other institutions after graduation — a reason Tom
Weisskopf, director of the RC, cited as the motivating factor for
the shift.

“The main rationale was that there was increased demand
for GPAs on the part of graduating students who were going (on) to
graduate professional school,” he said. RC alumni expressed
concern when applying to institutions because they were unable to
present a clear GPA, he said.

“For a while we had to impute a ‘would be GPA’
and that was problematic because we didn’t have actual grades
for the RC courses,” Weisskopf said. “The main benefit
is that RC students will now have GPAs readily supplied to others
outside of the University.”

Ian Robinson, a professor in the RC social science program, said
he recognizes the benefit for students who are accustomed to
receiving letter grades. “That’s a benefit that only
flows from the fact that there’s this pathology of grades out
there that people are motivated by more than they ought to
be,” he said. “But given that’s the reality and
that the rest of LSA tends to kind of encourage that mentality,
it’s a reality we have to live with here.”

Robinson expressed the potential danger of letter grades, citing
a course he taught on Mexican labor in North America. “As
soon as you get into grades you start going, well, ‘can we
have all A’s? Well, no you’re not supposed to have all
A’s’, that’s called grade inflation, but in fact
everyone was really motivated to do projects.”

The course encouraged students to engage in the issues and
included a trip to Mexico. “I felt the course was a smashing
success on both fronts so the grades were kind of an irrelevance in
a way, and even potentially negative,” said Robinson.

RC senior Carol Gray said she feels letter grades conflict with
the mission of the RC. “I think the RC is about this
continuous process of learning and dialogue, and (by giving grades)
it’s standardizing something that in essence is not meant to
be standardized,” she said. She also expressed concern about
the shift in classroom dynamics. “Even if you get a grade
with an evaluation, it changes the way you act in class, it changes
everything.”

RC junior Aaron Malinoff attributes the controversy over the
change to miscommunication between RC students and administrators.
“People who graduated from the RC (…) would tell me
that it was sort of a snap decision that was made, students really
didn’t have a chance to get upset about or voice their
concerns,” he said.

Still, some students enjoy having both grades and evaluations.
RC junior Jeremy Cook feels that both systems are biased, but
together can better depict a student. “I think they give
different pictures, an evaluation can tell about you every day of
class, but the letter gives a more general picture, and I think you
need both to give a really accurate picture of a student in a
class,” he said.

Distributing letter grades may provide benefits to students,
said Mark Kirschenmann, an RC professor in the School of Music.
“Personally I like having and prefer having a graded system
because in my experiences I think that, for better or for worse,
grades oftentimes serve as a quasi-motivating factor,” he
said. He said he noticed that seniors under the old grading policy
participated in a course just enough to pass. “My general
inclination is to think that the pass-fail system had some
downfalls in that some of the students I’ve had under that
policy simply did enough to get by,” he said.

RC sophomore Dana Fife, a student of the ungraded intensive
language program said she is satisfied with the arrangement.
“It helps to know that when I’m learning a language, my
main goal isn’t to get an A, it’s to know the
language,” she said. Since the program may command a large
portion of a student’s course load, and is focused on
constant assessment, letter grades may defeat the purpose of an
intensive program. “It’s too stressful to worry about
your grade point average on top of that,” she said.

RC freshman Laura Pisarello said she feels the RC still provides
benefits that the larger LSA lacks, despite the newly enforced
letter grades. “Just the fact (that) the class sizes are kept
at 15, you’re always gonna be able to connect with your
professor on a closer level than in LSA,” she said.

Despite the initial debate, most students today do not seem
bothered by the grades. Murphy claimed to receive few, if any,
complaints since the decision’s execution. “If there
are some individuals who don’t like it, (which) I’m
sure that’s true, but that’s not really the
case,” he said. “There’s no great groundswell of
support here for going back to pass/fail evaluation.”

RC students can count on a continued effort to maintain the
written evaluation system. “Nobody advocated giving up
written evaluations,” said Weisskopf. “It’s
possible that there could be modifications of the current system,
but (it’s) highly unlikely to give up the written evaluation
system.”

 

 

 

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