College of Arts and Sciences

Educational Policy Meeting

 

Minutes of the 396th Meeting

Thursday, February 18th, 2004

____________________________________________________

 

MEMBERS.

PRESENT:  Joe Burns, Michael Connolly, Paul Davidovits, Vincent Dimaggio, Thomas McGuinness, Michael Martin, Gilda Morelli, Robert Murphy, Ourida Mostefai, Clare O'Connor, David Quigley, Joseph Quinn, Grace Simmons, Eileen Sweeney, Barbara Viechnicki.

ABSENT:  Lisa Cuklanz, Andrea Defusco-Sullivan, Solomon Friedberg, Omar Gonzales, Mary Daniel O'Keeffe, O.P., William Petri, Jennie Purnell.

ON LEAVE:  Clare Dunsford.

 

CALL TO ORDER:  Dean Quinn called the meeting to order at 4:10 P.M. noting that as the Appeals subcommittee had no business to report and as Academic Affairs would be presenting a report on the use of undergraduates as teaching assistants at the next meeting, this meeting would be devoted to a preliminary report on grade inflation from the Honors subcommittee.

 

MINUTES:  Minutes for November 17th, 2003, were approved subject to two grammatical clarifications.

 

 

SUBCOMMITTEE REPORTS: 

 

HONORS.  Bob Murphy reported that the subcommittee had reviewed data on grading at Boston College and surveyed several other schools concerning their experience with grade inflation, and had distributed a preliminary report. He continued stating that he would go over some of the data and asked that the EPC now discuss the preliminary report and recommendations. He also stated that a final report would be presented at a later meeting of the EPC.

 

THE DATA.

a. Murphy began by noting that, since the early 1990s, regardless of how it was calculated, all the data showed a strong upward trend in grades for undergraduate.

 

MEDIAN GPA BY CLASS: Murphy stated that over the last decade the median GPA for all undergraduates went up and that for every year the spring median GPA was higher than the fall median GPA. He added that, by the spring of 2003, half of all seniors received a GPA higher than 3.5 for courses taken in that semester.

 

Paul Davidovits asked if this seasonal rise might result from poorer students dropping out of course sequences. Michael Connolly commented that this might result from students in two semester long courses usually receiving higher grades for the second semester. Dean Quinn noted that, in the case of seniors who might be taking only courses in their major and doing a senior thesis, we would expect them to be doing their best work and receiving their highest grades.

 

AVERAGE GPA BY CLASS: Murphy stated that from 1993 to 2003 the average GPA for all undergraduates had gone up though more slowly than the median. He added that he thought the median a more useful indicator than the average.

 

Michael Connolly asked if there was a problem with the data for seniors in the spring semester of 2003. Murphy responded there were problems with the data for the years 1996 and 2003 but that he would try to resolve those for the final report.

 

PERCENT DISTRIBUTION OF GRADES FOR A&S AND FOR ALL UNDERGRADUATES. Pointing out that the data presented three years, 1995, 1999, and 2003, Murphy stated that the distribution revealed a dramtic increase in the number of “A” and “A-“ grades given.

 

Ourida Mostefai noted this corresponded to the situation at Harvard and stated that in reviewing student records for the Dean’s Sophomore Scholars list, she discovered that 1/3 of the current sophomores in A&S had cumulative GPAs above 3.5. Murphy added that the final cut off for Dean’s Scholars was 3.7.

 

b. Murphy presented data comparing the cumulative GPA of students taking a department’s courses to the GPA of students for the courses offered by a department.

 

c. Murphy stated that the data for the rise in GPA has shadowed a marked increase in the quality of students admitted to BC as indicated by SAT scores.

 

 

SURVEY OF OTHER SCHOOLS.

Murphy stated that the subcommittee had received 10 responses to a questionnaire concerning the issue of grade inflation sent to the member schools of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. He summarized the responses as follows:

  • All responding schools showed GPA increases, though in varying amounts, and reported there was some concern on their campus over the issue.
  • A few schools reported having formed committees to assess the issue and listed suggested measures such as “narrative” grading, reporting course averages alongside a student’s grades on transcripts, and reporting information on grading patterns to departments and individual faculty.
  • Several schools noted the rise in their GPAs was accompanied by rising SAT scores.
  • Some schools attributed the rise to the pressure for higher grades by students applying to professional schools.
  • Four schools noted that some questions concerning expected grades were included on student course evaluations.

 

 

PRELIMINARY RECOMMENDATIONS.

 

a.      Educate Faculty concerning these trends by

  • distributing standardized data to departments and requiring departments to discuss the data and policies at meetings
  • providing each faculty member with data on the grades they have given compared to both other sections of that course within the department and all other courses in the department,

b.      Develop tools for measuring students’ relative performance which could be recorded on the transcripts alongside with each course grade.

c.       Incorporate grade expectation questions into student course evaluations.

 

 

GENERAL DISCUSSION.

 

Ourida Mostefai suggested that several factors seemed to push grades up including

  • increasing number of BC graduates going on to graduate and professional schools
  • expectations of future GPA needs for admission to post graduate programs
  • and a decline in academic risk taking.

 

 Clare O'Connor stated she had discussed this issue with Robert Wolf, Director of the Premedical, Predental, and Preveterinary Advising Program, who had said the national rise in GPAs had lead medical schools to emphasize MCATs and recommendations over GPA in making admissions decisions.

 

Paul Davidovits noted that the pressure for good or high grades begins before the students reach Boston College. Michael Martin noted that the trend could result from the quality of our students rising while the expectations we made of them remained flat.

 

Tom McGuinness asked what the committee thought grades were meant to indicate. Michael Martin noted that there seemed to have been a shift from grades as relative judgments on the quality of work to students’ personal performance. Ourida Mostefai added that grades now often do not reflect performance at all but effort expended.

 

Dean Quinn asked if those possessing institutional memory thought the change occurred in the 1980s. Michael Connolly responded that the deans used to send data on grade spreads to faculty and chairs. Bob Murphy stated he would try to find out why this practice was stopped.

 

Tom McGuinness asked if this should be a university wide discussion rather than limited to the A&S EPC.

 

Michael Connolly stated that forcing a strict bell curve would disadvantage BC students applying to postgraduate programs. Clare O’Connor responded that the MCAT did comparatively evaluate universities. 

 

Dean Quinn wondered if this was one more feature of a culture of “customer satisfaction.”

 

ADJOURNMENT.  Dean Quinn thanked the subcommittee for its work and adjourned the meeting at 5:28 P.M.

 

Respectfully Submitted

 

 

Michael C. Martin

Secretary to the EPC