Leeds grading policy a work-in-progress

The Leeds School of Business is in the process of collecting data to assess the success of its grading policy, implemented in fall of 2009.

“When we instituted the policy, it was agreed that we would revisit it once we had some data to see whether it was effective in doing what we hoped it would do,” said Calvin Duncan, associate dean of the undergraduate program at the Leeds School. “We will know shortly, by the end of this year, whether it has had the effect we were hoping for.”

In spring of 2009, Duncan sat on an executive committee with the dean of the Leeds School, as well as the other associate deans and ten faculty members. This committee reviewed the average grades of every class offered in the school over the past five years. The discoveries prompted the transition from a set of grading guidelines, which had been in place for 12 years, to a new, required grading policy.

“There were too many classes where a large majority of grades were A’s and B’s,” Duncan said. “We were not making sufficient distinctions between the students based on their performance.”

The policy is meant to increase consistency in grading and counteract grade inflation, Duncan said.

“All we were trying to do is bring greater consistency to the way the grades were given and do a better job of aligning the grades that we give with the performance that was being observed in the classroom,” Duncan said.

Logan DeVane, a 21-year-old junior marketing major, said he feels the policy actually skews the performance-grade alignment.

“I don’t like that they’ve essentially bell-curved the entire school,” DeVane said. “If you’re in a class that might be kind of easy, you could do well and still have your grade dropped just because they have to hit a quota.”

The policy sets target averages for each class level—1000, 2000, 3000 and so on. These targets get higher in correlation with the class levels, based on the assumption that background knowledge increases performance, Duncan said.

“We assumed that as people move through the program, they had more background knowledge and they would perform at a higher level anyway,” Duncan said. “We tried to embed that into the targets that we used in the new policy.”

When the policy was released, there was an immediate reaction.

“Once we implemented the policy, it became very controversial and we had a lot of negative feedback among the students and the parents,” Duncan said.

One such student was Kerry Ferber, a 21-year-old junior management major in the Leeds School, who said she believes the policy did not achieve consistency as the executive board had hoped.

“My biggest frustration is that they put this into effect my sophomore year,” Ferber said. “I had a year of adjusting to everything in college with the B-school grading and then a year later they switched it. I wish they had announced they were going to do that and only did that for the incoming classes to keep it consistent.”

Tom Sebok, director of the Ombud’s Office, said he was surprised that this controversy had never come to his office, which he said is a neutral, confidential advising resource for students and faculty with complaints. He accredits the formal grade appeal process for this lack of complaints.

“The creation of the grade appeal process, or at least the better communication of it campus-wide, has made it so that people will use that,” Sebok said. “So we don’t have as many [grade complaints] coming here as we used to.”

Arhie Asuncion, a 20-year-old junior accounting student, said the grade appeal process is not advertised and shouldn’t be necessary.

“They advertise the policy, but the appeal process has never been formally mentioned to me,” Asuncion said. “I was under the impression that whatever grade you got was the grade you got. I want to be able to trust my teachers that whatever grade I get in a class is the grade I earned.”

Duncan said formal and informal complaints of students and teachers will be taken into consideration while the policy is being evaluated.

“We’re not committed for 10 years on this thing,” Duncan said. “It’s just a matter of trying to do the right thing.”
Published to CUindependent.com on 1/31/2011.
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