Letter to the Editor

Responding to criticisms of Queen's new grading scheme

Dear Editors,

Several recent articles published in the Journal have implied that little thought or attention has been given to the impact of the new grading scheme on students. In the Faculty of Arts and Science, at least, this is not the case.

The impact of the new grading scheme on our students has been a central concern from the day it was passed by Senate. The Faculty of Arts and Science made an in-depth study of the impact of the new grading scheme, analyzing over 20,000 student academic records.

From the beginning, our goal has been to implement the new grading system in a way that is transparent, fair and results in the same outcomes as would have occurred under the old grading scheme. After much consultation with both students and faculty, this approach culminated in a completely revised set of academic regulations passed unanimously by the Arts and Science Faculty Board (a body on which there are some 30 undergraduate student representatives) in October, 2010.

One of those regulations is that all Arts and Science students with a GPA of 3.50 or greater in the academic year are placed on the Dean’s Honour List, not 3.70 as is implied in your Oct. 28 article, “Senate decides to keep GPA system.” This threshold is exactly that proposed by Senator Morelli in the article.

It is also important to remember that while much debate seems to have centered about the upper end of the grading scale (e.g. the Dean’s Honour List), it is even more important to ensure informed academic decision-making at the lower end (e.g. probation or requirements to withdraw), as for students in these categories the stakes are much higher.

Students with a GPA of less than 1.60 are placed on academic probation, and will be required to withdraw if they remain below this level for more than one academic year. This and several other important thresholds were publicized on the Arts and Science website well before the GPA system came into effect in May, 2011.

The Faculty will continue to monitor academic outcomes over the next several years, bringing any recommended changes to Faculty Board for review and approval.

In her Oct. 13 editorial, “GPA Goes Wrong,” Meaghan Wray implies that instructors will continue to grade in percentage terms and then directly translate these percentages into a letter and grade point based on the scheme approved by Senate. While it is certainly true that historical percent grades will be treated this way on the transcript, it is by no means clear that this is how instructors will choose to evaluate students going forward.

In order to guide instructors in their grading practices, the Faculty of Arts and Science has provided a number of tools. The first of these is a set of grade descriptors, laid out in the Faculty’s Academic Regulations. These descriptors not only provide a benchmark for instructors in describing an expected performance standard in a single course, they also describe the consequence to a student’s overall academic record of continued performance at that grade level across several courses.

The Faculty has also introduced a Policy on Grading, focused on means of maintaining transparency and fairness in grading methods, record keeping and communications. This grading policy leaves open the option of providing feedback solely in the form of letter grades. Both the grade descriptors and the grading policy were passed, again unanimously, by the Faculty Board in October 2011.

I would hope that as we move forwards in the new scheme that all interested parties will continue to engage in constructive and informed debate on grading practices.

J. Hugh Horton,
Associate Dean of Studies,
Queen’s Faculty of Arts and Science

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