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Undergraduate Council recommends adjusting University grading standards



University Senate members hosted an open discussion regarding grade inflation at their monthly meeting Wednesday, addressing the significant deficiencies they see with the weight and worth of how student performance is measured on campus.

In recent years, the Senate agreed, incoming University freshmen have brought with them assumptions about how grades are gained based on their K-12 experiences. Senate members contended this paradigm, where successful high school students have come to expect similar academic success in college, has undermined University faculty efforts to measure the quality of student work.

In light of this quandary, the University’s Undergraduate Council has recommended the Senate adopt motions to refine grading standards and include additional information on student transcripts. In doing so, the council — created by the Senate to oversee undergraduate education at the University ­­— hopes to make the grades that students earn more meaningful.

Undergraduate Council Chair Ian McNeely told the Senate that the inequities in “grade culture” are not endemic to the University, which has begun to see a disconnect between the GPA and SAT scores of prospective students.

“It’s a problem nationwide,” McNeely said. “It’s not unique to the U of O. The percentage of A’s is rising, and yet, at the same time, our SAT scores for incoming freshmen … did not go up.”

In an effort to attract suggestions about how this culture can be changed, the council launched a blog last year at gradeculture.uoregon.edu where students and instructors can offer suggestions for improvement.

“That attracted copious feedback from those who chose to do so,” McNeely said. “Number one, people want us to respect academic freedom. There is nothing we are proposing that will trample on that freedom.”

After receiving dozens of comments, the council drafted three motions for the Senate’s consideration. The first calls for each department and undergraduate program to formulate a rationale for their grading practices by the end of fall 2011 and to make the guidelines available on their respective websites. The council also recommended that starting next fall, instructors should be shown the mean grade and grade distributions for each course they teach to be consulted before final grades are submitted to DuckWeb. Thirdly, the Senate is considering requiring transcripts to include the percentage of A-range grades awarded alongside the individual grade for each course.

Marilyn Nippold, a communication disorders and sciences professor in the College of Education, questioned the chair’s efforts, saying combating grade inflation will create animosity between students and professors.

“I’m not in favor of grade inflation,” Nippold said, “but I don’t want to be the bad guy.”

University history major Matt Villeneuve, a student Undergraduate Council member, said the process by which instructors assign grades has become ambiguous, leaving students guessing as to what their teachers expect of them academically.

“Essentially as a student … I am sometimes at a loss for what my grades mean,” Villeneuve said. “Are my grades actually awarded based on a percentage along a bell curve? Every department (should) have a formulated rationale for grading.”

The Senate will vote on whether to adopt the three motions proposed by the council regarding grade culture reform at its next monthly meeting, April 13.

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