GPAs make their mark on transcripts

Commerce Society annual general meeting votes 50 to 1 in favour of keeping numeric system

Janice Deakin, associate vice-principal and dean of graduate studies and research, says a letter grade and grade point average system will bring Queen’s into harmony with other institutions.
Janice Deakin, associate vice-principal and dean of graduate studies and research, says a letter grade and grade point average system will bring Queen’s into harmony with other institutions.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

Queen’s notoriously confusing transcripts will soon be a thing of the past.

Beginning in May 2011, the University will introduce a letter grade and grade point average (GPA) system to all student transcripts, bringing Queen’s in line with approximately 95 per cent of universities in North America, Senate Committee on Academic Procedures (SCAP) chair Charles Beach said.

SCAP proposed the change to University Senate, which voted in favour of the motion at their May 20 meeting.

Beach said he spoke with every faculty board to collect feedback on the proposed change.

The overwhelming response from faculty members was that any change made shouldn’t result in grade inflation, he said.

“Queen’s has a reputation for solid grades.” Beach said SCAP decided to adopt a grading system based on the one at McMaster University.

“This had the greatest amount of granulation of percentages … about three percentage points per letter grade,” he said.

Beach said the change is being made to accommodate the increasing number of students taking courses across faculties, and to make Queen’s transcripts more compatible with other institutions.

“Only about five per cent of [North American] universities these days have a numeric system,” he said. “There is a thrust around the world … to move in this direction.”

Beach said he wanted to ensure Queen’s students applying to graduate studies outside Canada don’t encounter difficulties because their transcripts don’t include letter grades or GPAs.

“Do you think [other institutions] are going to take the time to puzzle out a non-standard transcript from outside the country? Not bloody likely.”

Under the current system, Beach said, faculties determine their own grading systems. For example, the Faculty of Law already assigns letter grades.

“This is very confusing on transcripts. … Students who take courses across faculties; this makes it tough.”

Beach said faculties will have to make their own decisions on how the new system will affect the requirements for honours and prizes awarded to top students.

Some students, particularly commerce students, have raised concerns over the relative lack of specificity the new system allows, Beach said.

“They liked the granularity of the hundred-based system. … We have some sympathy for that,” he said, adding that the new transcripts distinguish between A and A+, but both correspond to a GPA of 4.0.

Some institutions’ transcripts allow for a GPA of 4.3 to differentiate between A and A+, Beach said, although it’s not standard.

“We might want to do a 4.3,” he said.

Beach said SCAP has the option to modify the proposed grading structure during the coming year, for example, by making slight adjustments to which percentage grade corresponds to which letter grade.

“I am quite open to, if we want to, [making] some possible refinements.”

Professors may continue to assign numerical grades, Beach said, because the computer program that will accompany the new system will automatically convert the numbers to the corresponding letters. He said this would allow the commerce program’s class rankings to retain their high degree of granularity, a concern that was raised when the proposed change was announced.

Commerce Society president Spenser Heard said ComSoc expressed its concerns to SCAP during the time they were collecting feedback.

“SCAP decided to move forward anyways, which was obviously disappointing to our society,” he told the Journal via e-mail.

Heard said he felt Senate’s decision to approve adopting letter grades was made without a clear enough picture of how the new grading system will work.

“For instance, what constitutes an A versus a B? Are the professors going to be able [to] decide on their own? In our opinion, not enough of the major decisions regarding the actual implementation were presented, and therefore members of Senate were asked to vote without a clear picture of how this will eventually affect students.”

Heard said ComSoc held a vote at its annual general meeting on whether percentage grades should remain on transcripts, with 50 to 1 voting in favour of retaining numeric grades.

“The ideal system would constitute a blended system of both percentage grades and alphabetical grades. This would allow for institutions to easily calculate a GPA, while also keeping percentage grades which employers tend to prefer,” he said.

Heard said the University told ComSoc a dual system would be too expensive to accomplish.

“It is our opinion that the University should have considered this option more thoroughly before dismissing it.”

Associate Vice-Principal and Dean of Graduate Studies and Research Janice Deakin said the change will bring the University into harmony with other institutions, which may make it easier for Queen’s students to apply to graduate schools that use a letter grade/GPA system.

“We share the University’s view that a change to letter grades with GPA will bring Queen’s more in line with other universities,” she said in an e-mail to the Journal. “The fact that Queen’s students are marked with letter grade and GPA will have no impact on the Queen’s School of Graduate Studies evaluating students from other institutions. We currently have students who apply to Queen’s from all over the world with transcripts that vary considerably in their characteristics–alpha, numeric and GPA. They are all evaluated to our same academic standards.”

Deakin said the new transcripts won’t have any effect on students going on to further studies at Queen’s.

“Students are evaluated based on their performance, whatever the method of describing their academic achievements.”

Grade Expectations

Letter GradeGrade Point ValuePercentageA+4.090-100A4.085-89A-3.780-84B+3.377-79B3.073-76B-2.770-72C+2.367-69C2.063-66C-1.760-62D+1.357-59D1.053-56D-0.750-52F00-49

Correction

ComSoc held a vote at its annual general meeting on whether percentage grades should remain on transcripts, with 98 per cent voting in favour of retaining numeric grades.

Incorrect information originally appeared in this article.

The Journal regrets the error.

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