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June 25, 2010


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Ben Buchwalter

I think this article highlights that at the end of the day, grades are essentially meaningless. Sure, they show that of two students at the same institution, the one with an A- average likely performed better than the one with the B average. But that system falters when you're comparing students at different schools. The student with the B average, for example, might have done better than the A- student at an easier institution. But there also countless other factors to take into account, like workload and difficulty of courses.

My strongest impression from the Times article was that the most accurate way to judge students is to adopt the pass/fail system, like Harvard, Stanford and Berkeley. In this scenario, the students who stand out the most to their professors will get stellar recommendations, as opposed to those who simply limped along.

The difficulty of this system is that all schools would have to implement the policy simultaneously. Any perspective on whether this is possible or realistic?

Eric Fink

At Elon, we have decided to buck the trend and alter our grading scale and curve downward (both adopting a lower mean and capping our scale at 4.0 rather than 4.3 as had been the case up to now). The three reasons Dan identifies pretty much sum up the reasons that came up as we discussed the matter. We'll see how the it plays out.

As for pass/fail, I do think this is the most rational option, and I expect to see more schools among the top tier go that route. But, for lower-ranked schools, and perhaps especially for new schools, it would be a risky move at least until pass/fail gains widespread acceptance. I say that as a sociological, not a pedagogical, observation.

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