Pomona Faculty Passes Proposal to Address Grade Distribution

The Pomona College faculty voted April 1 on measures to address grade distribution and hours
spent on courses by students. After tabling the proposal at the previous
faculty meeting March 4, the faculty passed the resolution 46-29.

The Curriculum Committee
edited the proposal after receiving feedback during the March 4 meeting.

The new proposal
has four components. First, it asks faculty to fill out a short form if they
give out more than 50 percent A’s, A-pluses or A-minuses in a class, which will
then be submitted to the department chair. The clause from the original proposal that required these forms also be submitted to the Dean’s office was removed.

Second, it asks for
individualized reports to be provided regularly to faculty, including
information on the number of hours students spend on a course.

Third, it asks for
there to be annual departmental discussions on grade distribution and reported
hours worked. The original proposal recommends that faculty reflect on their grading practices in annual departmental reports. 

Finally, it requires the
curriculum committee to evaluate the impact of these recommendations three
years after implementation.

Associate
professor of biology Rachel Levin, a member of the curriculum committee, said
that the new proposal emphasizes that the form would
be used to gather information and to promote reflection on faculty grading
practices.

Before voting, faculty were first
given time to share their opinions on the updated proposal.

Some expressed
concern that the resolution may become a punitive measure toward the faculty.
Another professor expressed that although grades are going up, that does not
mean students are learning less than before. According to
Levin, grade trajectory has been steadily rising since the 1980s. She explained that if it continues to rise on this same path, Pomona will be
giving all A’s by 2030.

“That is to the
disadvantage because Pomona is becoming known as a place that grade inflates
more than anyone else, so that your A becomes less meaningful and that means
that people might ignore your GPA altogether,” Levin said.

Levin added that
grade inflation makes it difficult for her to evaluate student performance.

“It gives you a
false sense of your standing, it gives you a false impression of your ability,”
she said. “It makes me unable to grade you.”

Professor James
Taylor, chair of the theater department, wrote in an email to TSL that even though he
agrees with parts of the proposal, such as holding regular departmental
meetings, he is concerned about some of the recommendations. 

“In my view, this
reporting plan seems a bit ‘Big Brother-ish’ and is out of line with the
general liberal nature of most of the faculty rules and guidelines,” Taylor
wrote.

The proposal also
placed an emphasis on addressing the number of hours students reported working
in their Pomona classes. According to Levin, Pomona students consistently
report working fewer hours than students at other colleges.

“At least half of
Pomona students are reporting that they’re not challenged in their classes,”
Levin said. “It’s just disturbing to me that we’re giving more A’s at the same
time as our students are reporting feeling less challenged and working less
than students do at other schools. Whether that’s cause-and-effect or related
or not, it’s a little unsettling.”

Taylor also noted
that standards for grade distribution depend on each department.

“I also teach in
an area where grading is somewhat more subjective than in other parts of the
College,” he wrote. “For this reason a surplus of A’s is not entirely a bad thing.
If a grade is earned, it should be given, in my view.”

Now that the
proposal has been passed, student forums will be held for
students to understand what the committee’s aims are and that students are not
at risk.

Student input was
not included in this initial resolution, but Associated
Students of Pomona College (ASPC) Commissioner of Academic Affairs Emily Glass PO ’15
insisted that students be informed and included as this process continues.

“I don’t think
that this will harm students in a way in which their feedback should have been
more integrated,” Glass said. “But if the faculty decides to implement other
protocols to limit high grades, then student input should absolutely be
included.”

Levin said that
faculty will still have freedom to give high grades and acknowledged that there
may be many instances in which more than 50 percent of students deserve an A.

“Everyone gets an
A who deserves one—that remains true at Pomona,” Levin said. “What we’re really
trying to do is… at least ask people, ‘What
does an A mean?’”

This article was updated April 12. It originally indicated that the faculty passed the motion April 4.

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