Promoting Thoughtful Faculty Conversations About Grade Distributions

Spring
2008
Topic: 
Grading
Committee: 
Educational Policies Committee

Assigning grades to student work, both during the academic term and as a summation of a stu-dent's mastery of subject matter, is a longstanding practice in all levels of education, from kin-dergarten through graduate and professional studies. Recently, a variety of factors have brought the criteria for assigning, and the resulting distribution of letter grades under heightened scrutiny. From increased attention from accrediting agencies, through new online services that publicize grades, to newly revised Title 5 Regulations, these forces require thoughtful faculty reflection, and an informed and collegial discussion on the rationale for the grades faculty assign to their students' coursework. Such discussions might well reveal practices that could both enhance the integrity of the grading system and improve student success. One purpose of this paper is to ex-amine system data from the state Chancellor's Office about grade distributions within California community colleges; a second purpose is to identify some of the issues that need further explora-tion, and to encourage local faculty and senates to pursue such conversations. This paper does not propose specific criteria or practices to be used by faculty, though one of the recommenda-tions of this paper is that further work should be done to explore that topic in more detail.

Recommendations: 
  • Local senates should create a campus environment that encourages regular professional discussions of grading practices and data as an important part of professional development and/or program review.
  • Local senates and researchers can facilitate data collection and analysis for distributions collegewide and for individual departments or disciplines.
  • The purpose of discussions about grading should be assessment of professional practices that may lead to improved educational success for students.
  • Such discussions should not be part of the faculty evaluation process.
  • Local senates should initiate periodic discussions of the factors which lead to significant variations in grade distribution.
  • Local senates should work with local bargaining agents to ensure that review of grade distribution does not take place in an arbitrary or evaluative manner.
  • Faculty department or division chairs should convene periodic discussions of current data regarding grade distribution, and seek to involve part time faculty in these discussions as colleagues and fellow professionals.
  • Local senates should make certain that their local curriculum process requires that course outlines of record document compliance with Title 5 55002.
  • Local senates should reiterate that Education Code assigns legal authority over grades to the instructor of the course and that Title 5 requires collegial consultation on grading policies.
  • All faculty members should ensure that the grades they assign are consistent with Title 5 regulations and accepted standards of good practice.
  • Faculty should consider exploring in more detail best practices for formative and summative assessment and grading at both the state and local level.
  • The Academic Senate should consider the creation of a follow-up paper that:
    • analyzes the role of grades as a credible, valid and reliable measure of student achievement and success;
    • shares effective practices in grading, in the light of external pressures from federal and accreditation bodies;
    • can be used to promote a positive public perception regarding the integrity of grades; and
    • can be used to oppose the replacement of traditional grades with third-party, off-the-shelf testing.