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University News

Number of A’s awarded grows for another year

Physical sciences are exception to the trend

Contributing Writer
Friday, October 8, 2010

Grades at Brown have never been higher. For the 2009-10 school year, 54.4 percent of grades were A’s, 21.9 percent B’s, 4.1 percent C’s and 16.5 percent were S’s, according to statistics published by the Office of Institutional Research. Only 2.5 percent of grades were recorded as no credit.

Since the 2008-09 school year, the percentage of A’s has risen by 1 point. The number of A’s has seen a general increase over the past 10 years.

Professor Emeritus of Engineering Barrett Hazeltine said this trend may be driven by “more small classes and more independent studies. Students can work more at their own pace.”

Grading policies at Brown have also changed since Hazeltine joined the faculty in 1959. He said that when he first arrived, the department chairs would examine the grades given by each professor.

“If you had more than a third A’s, you had to explain why,” he said. Grading “used to be more formal. There was a very clear formula.”

Hazeltine also said that students’ work ethic has definitely improved since he began teaching at Brown. “We are seeing a student body now that are more interested in the courses on their own. They want to learn the material,” he said.

Fewer classes are being taken satisfactory/no credit now than in the past, Hazeltine said.

Grades have been increasing in every discipline except for the physical sciences, where they have been relatively stagnant in recent years, according to Office of Institutional Research data.

“I had a class last semester: 50 A’s, 50 B’s and 1 C. That was unusually low,” said Professor of Education Cynthia Garcia Coll, who chairs the Faculty Executive Committee. “I expected a lot of A’s.”

“I hate when (students) only work for the grade,” she said. “I don’t like regurgitation, so that’s not the kind of papers or exams I give.”

Brown regulates grades far less than some other institutions, such as Princeton, where a more rigid grading framework is in place.

According to Princeton’s “Grading at Princeton” booklet, Princeton has “a common grading standard for every academic department and program, under which A’s shall account for less than 35 percent of the grades given in undergraduate courses and less than 55 percent of the grades given in junior and senior independent work.”

But the booklet notes that “it is important to underscore that these are expectations, not hard-and-fast rules, not a grading quota, not a cap, not a curve.”

Garcia Coll questioned whether Brown’s increasing trend is a problem.

“I have no idea,” she said. “I think we would need to think about what do we want grades to mean.”

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