University News

This Week in Higher Ed: Oct. 9, 2014

By
University News Editor
Thursday, October 9, 2014

Princeton ditches grade deflation policy

Princeton’s faculty voted to repeal the university’s controversial grade deflation policy after sustained criticism of its effectiveness, the Daily Princetonian reported Monday.

Administrators implemented the policy 10 years ago to combat what they saw as a worrisome trend toward an increase in the number of high grades distributed to students. The policy mandated that A’s should account for no more than 35 percent of total grades in each academic department.

The faculty vote came after an ad hoc committee convened in October 2013 by Christopher Eisgruber, president of Princeton, called the policy unproductive and urged its repeal. The committee’s report revealed that only 5 percent of undergraduates and 6 percent of faculty members found the policy “effective in maintaining fair and consistent grading standards,” the Daily Princetonian reported.

Faculty members will now be encouraged to follow substantive, well-constructed grading standards, according to a draft of a new policy obtained by the Daily Princetonian. The Faculty Committee on Examination and Standing will conduct periodic reviews of these standards and provide faculty members with grade distribution information each fall.

When Princeton introduced the grade deflation policy a decade ago, none of its peer institutions had taken formal steps to curb grade inflation. While Princeton administrators expressed confidence at the time that more Ivy League institutions would adopt such a policy, none have done so.

But Ivy League administrators  are considering the possibility of institutionalizing measures against grade inflation, The Herald reported last spring.

Yale formed an ad hoc committee on grading in April 2013 that recommended adopting a 100-point grading scale and a rubric of grade distributions, prompting a student protest, the Yale Daily News reported at the time. Harvard faculty members expressed concern last December that the most frequently awarded grade in undergraduate courses was an A and median grade an A-, the Harvard Crimson reported at the time.

 

Cornell looks to bolster community engagement

Cornell announced Monday the launch of a $150 million, decade-long initiative to promote greater community outreach and service.

The initiative, called Engaged Cornell, aims to “establish community engagement and real-world learning experiences as the hallmark of the Cornell undergraduate experience,” the Cornell Chronicle reported Monday.

Engaged Cornell will provide departmental grants to undergraduates, establish a leadership program open to the entire student body and create new introductory and advanced courses, the Cornell Chronicle reported.

By the time the program is fully established in 2025, all graduating seniors will ideally have taken at least one of these new courses “in which they play a direct role supporting, enhancing, contributing to solving problems and contributing to the greater good,” Laura Brown, senior vice provost for undergraduate education at Cornell, told the New York Times Monday.

The Einhorn Family Charitable Trust — led by Cornell alums David Einhorn and Cheryl Strauss Einhorn — provided a $50 million gift to the initiative, the Cornell Chronicle reported. Further philanthropy is slated to raise an additional $100 million over the next decade.

Several peer institutions have developed similar programs centered on community engagement, the Times reported. Cornell administrators spoke with representatives from Princeton, Stanford University, Tulane University and Penn when developing the initiative.

 

College Board tests new announcement system

For the first time in its reporting history, the College Board released a simultaneous announcement Tuesday revealing the average performances on its three main exams, the PSAT/NMSQT, the Advanced Placement tests and the SAT, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported. The organization’s leaders linked the change to efforts to maximize the tests’ respective efficacies in helping students figure out their approach to standardized testing in the college application process.

The College Board usually discloses the three test results separately, with the Advanced Placement announcement falling in February.

The move sought to highlight that the three tests work in conjunction to prepare students for applying to college, David Coleman, president and chief executive of the College Board, told the Chronicle.

“If we are to together move the numbers and make a difference … it will take these programs acting at their most powerful, and together,” Coleman said. The move could encourage students who show promise on the PSAT to take AP exams, he added.

The AP announcement’s earlier timing could help high school teachers preparing students to take AP exams in the spring, the Chronicle reported.

“It’s giving states and policy makers information much more quickly,” said Trevor Packer, senior vice president for AP and instruction for the College Board, told the Chronicle.

But Robert Schaeffer, public education director of the testing watchdog group FairTest, told the Times he sees the move as a “self-serving self-promotion” on the part of the College Board.