Discourse / Editorials / November 6, 2013

Editors Roundtable: Should Knox College redefine an A grade?

EmbersDue to concerns regarding grade inflation at Knox, Professor of Psychology Tim Kasser has proposed a new definition for an A grade. Here, our editorial board weighs in on the proposal.

There’s a definition for an A?

There is always a case to be made for bringing policies in line with common practices. But with little to no visibility to students and the difficulties of standardizing grades across the college’s departments, the discussion of redefining an A grade is unlikely to have any meaningful impact on campus.

For starters, I would be willing to bet that most students didn’t know about or hadn’t ever seen the current definition before this issue arose — I know I didn’t before reporting on the issue last month. Students are not concerned with how the college policies define an A grade. We’re only concerned about how our individual professors define them.

This brings us to the ultimate problem — that each faculty member will define an A differently based on his or her personal definition. No policy change will alter that definition.

Charlie Gorney ’14, Editor-in-Chief

Wording in new definition sacrifices clarity currently offered

The issue at stake with redefining an A grade is the wording. The current definition is solid in that students and faculty have a conception of what it means to get an A, but there are, indeed, inevitable misconceptions because of the use of the word “outstanding.”

Thus, I am in favor of redefining an A grade, but only if the new definition would be as widely understood as the current one. The new definition should also be clear and precise. Words like “vast” and “mastery” carry with them the connotations of the excellence that deserves an A, while words like “substantial” and “majority” do not, instead implying that a student did “most of” the work, or that they “tried” hard “enough.” The phrases may be improved by these adjustments: “significant mastery” and “utmost amount.”

Chelsea Embree ’14, Digital Editor

Altered definition offers little change and proposal presents issues

Though I agree that the national issue of grade inflation and its local application at Knox is an issue worthy of serious consideration, I believe Kasser’s fails to adequately tackle that issue.

Switching out substantial mastery for outstanding performance will hardly make a dent in the way grades are perceived or awarded on campus. The second part of Kasser’s proposal seems to me the substantial leg of his argument, but I’m unconvinced that Schneider’s recommendation would deter grade inflation.

Furthermore, I am uncertain that this practice would be looked upon positively by outside institutions and am unable to overlook some serious flaws in this system. For example, though I’m sure Kasser’s department, with 52 person Intro. to Psych courses can glean some value from statistical analysis, I am less confident about the value of taking the average grades from a five-person digital photojournalism course. But at least the second part of the proposal suggests a change of some substance, while the first part is little more than pomp and circumstance.

Samantha Paul ’14, Discourse Editor

Discussion of redefinition misses the larger issue of grade inflation

I support the current definition, although I feel the whole debate is missing the larger question of whether or not it is too easy to get an A at this school.

The criterion we have now feels clearer to me as a student regarding what is expected of me if I want to get an A: I must do all of the work, but in a way that goes above and beyond what is required. The newer proposal leaves it vague what “vast majority” and “substantial” really mean and seems to do little to achieve the standardization across departments that the proposal has as a goal.
That being said, I think that Professor Kasser’s concerns are very important and should be addressed, but redefining the definition of an A is not the best way to achieve that.

Matt Barry ’14, Co-News Editor

Second portion of Kasser’s proposal poses serious problems

There is a difference between reaffirming the value of an A and redefining an A. If an A was ever representative of anything other than a “substantial mastery” of the course material then that is another issue.

Grade inflation is a national issue that Professor Kasser’s proposal does a good job of localizing. However, do a lot of A grades necessitate the presence of rampant grade inflation? No.

His updated definition is a proper reminder that A grades should be explicitly tied to an “substantial mastery.” I do have some serious concerns about his second proposal. As a liberal arts institution that encourages students to broaden their academic horizons I believe that a dangerous line is being crossed should the average GPA for a class be printed on a student’s transcript.

By taking classes outside of our wheelhouses we are taking a calculated risk of learning about something new that we may struggle with and therefore get a less than desirable grade. This category can help contextualize course grades, but should be either restricted to courses taken within a student’s major or better yet displayed at the discretion of the student.

Julian Boireau ’13, Co-News Editor

TKS Editorial Board

Tags:  A administration GPA grade inflation Knox College policy tim kasser transcript

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