Princeton Drops Grade Deflation Policy

Ten years after its implementation, Princeton faculty have voted to remove the university's grade deflation policy, effective immediately.

The old policy limited the number of "A's" that could be given out in each class to 35% of the total grades. The new measure will allow each department to create their own policies toward grading standards and distribution. The new grading policy requests that faculty members grade students based on "well-designed, meaningful grading standards."

A committee will meet at the beginning of each year to review the grading history of each department and program.

"The Committee on Examinations and Standing is firmly committed to the integrity of the University's grading system and believes that these proposed measures will support rigor, fairness and transparency in assessment and grading practices while achieving the University's pedagogical goals," the committee wrote.

While discussing the change, the committee found that grades had begun to decline at the university at about the same time that the deflation policy had been set.

"The best reasons to change Princeton's grading policy have more to do with psychological factors and campus atmosphere than with any tangible effects it has on the prospects of our students," the committee said.

The vote comes after a survey in August showed that just 5% of students and 6% of faculty members believed the grade deflation policy to be effective. Those who opposed the old standards believed they were responsible for the drop in admission rates as well as the drop in enrolled students taking a chance on course selection. Many professors felt that it should be left to them to decide on grading policies, and that grade deflation was placing undue stress on the student population.

"The fact is that students who had put in A-level work were getting grades that didn't reflect that because this arbitrary quota was in place,"said Devon Naftzger, a junior in Princeton's politics department.

Naftzger went on to say that the policy made Princeton students look less capable than students at other comparable universities.

Despite this student sentiment, no concrete evidence of any negative impact on students' competitiveness for graduate school, professional school or employment could be found by the committee. However, they did discover a false sentiment carried by prospective students that they may not be properly rewarded for the work they have done while attending the university.

The committee concluded that "removing numerical targets would go a long way towards alleviating these concerns. … People fixate on numbers, and the very existence of a numerical guideline such as 35 percent serves as a lightning rod, giving (perhaps wrongly) the impression of inflexibility. Removing the numerical target without changing the intent of the policy would solve many of these issues."

The committee has also suggested that school policies concerning student work focus on the quality of feedback rather than the grades, approving a new committee called "Council Teaching and Learning" to focus on the matter.

Yale had also considered a grade deflation policy in November of 2013, after a proposed switch to a numerical grading policy. No change has been implemented as of yet.

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