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CSOM Establishes Guidelines to Combat Grade Inconsistency

Following two years of discussion, the Carroll School of Management (CSOM) has instituted new grading guidelines for core-level classes that are designed to combat grade inconsistency between classes and departments. The new guidelines recommend an approximate distribution of letter grades within each class. Some departments began instituting the policies in spring of 2018, while others began instituting them in the Fall 2018 semester.

The guidelines suggest that no more than 35 percent of students receive an A or A-, and no more than 65 percent of students receive a B+ or higher, according to Ethan Sullivan, senior associate dean for undergraduate programs in CSOM. Syllabi reviewed by The Heights indicate 5 to 15 percent of students would fall into the C range or below. The intended effect is to limit the number of students receiving higher grades in order to establish consistency between classes rather than an artificial bell curve.

Sullivan said that the natural grade distributions across CSOM courses tend to fall into these proportions and doubts that grades will change that much in practice.

The change suggests guidelines to professors teaching core classes in CSOM, although it is up to the individual professor whether they will adhere to the guidelines. While the guidelines are for the CSOM core, Sullivan added that they could also be useful for professors teaching other classes.

The change comes after two years of discussion and the creation of a report tracking grades from 2006 to 2016. Sam Graves, the chairman of the operations management department, and Ronnie Sadka, senior associate dean for faculty and chairperson of the finance department, authored the report.

Sadka said that the study came in response to faculty concerns of grading inconsistency between departments and professors.

Administrators in CSOM declined to give The Heights access to the report, citing the privacy concerns inherent to releasing student grades.

The report found a GPA increase of approximately 0.2 over 10 years, according to Sadka. He said that the main focus of the new guidelines is to resolve inconsistency between course sections, although it may limit grade inflation as well.

“If you really want to battle grade inflation, you need to do much more than what we’re trying to do,” Sadka said. “It’s not really changing much overall, it’s just making things more consistent.”

Both Sadka and Sullivan stressed that they want students to take classes that are interesting, rather than just easy.

Sadka and Sullivan explained that grade inflation is unfair to both students and faculty and the changes are meant to make the system more fair and promote student excellence.

“You might be picking the class, and you might be saying this professor is a more generous grader than that professor, therefore I am going to pick this professor,” said Sullivan. “So, it became apparent that students were making decisions based on grades rather than based on content.

“This, then, has two implications. One, it impacts the student and their learning, potentially. Two, it impacts the faculty members within the department.”

Sullivan added that tougher professors could face negative consequences, because handing out lower grades could lead to poor course evaluations and affect their salaries or promotion opportunities. He said that this has led to professors grading more leniently, calling the effect a “race to the bottom.”

Sullivan also mentioned the need for faculty autonomy. Following the guidelines is voluntary, so professors maintain complete discretion in determining the grades they hand out. This degree of faculty discretion is meant combat the fear that the grading system could harm students in a class with a disproportionate amount of top-caliber students.

When the report was compiled last spring, many CSOM professors expressed mixed opinions on its accuracy, with several noting that they had not personally seen inflation in their own classes.

“I could imagine that in certain classes, it’s not a problem,” Sullivan said. “Probably because they’ve been operating under appropriate means. But, at BC, if you looked at a history of grades at BC, especially since the 1960s, there’s a great amount of grade inflation.”

Although some voices have raised concerns that the new guidelines will hurt BC students seeking highly competitive internships and jobs, Sullivan pointed out that prospective employers typically budget a certain number of slots for BC students, so inter-school competition is not a major factor.

Ultimately, he doesn’t think the changes will negatively impact students.

“I believe that there’s a culture of collaboration and care at BC, among students and among everyone here,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think it’s going to create some kind of unhealthy competition. … Maybe this helps people prepare a little bit for the world of jobs, where there’s a lot more competition.

“None of us would work here if our goal was to harm students. Everything we do is with student interest in mind. So, one of the things we were very careful about is would this harm students? Would this harm students, for example, in the job process? And so, we talked to recruiters and employers and had a resounding no, this would not negatively impact students. In fact, they were all in support on this.”

Featured Image by Jonathon Ye / Heights Editor

January 28, 2019