By President Christopher L. Eisgruber
The evaluation of student work is a critical component of a liberal arts education. Faculty members expect students to submit their best work, and in turn, students expect faculty members to provide timely, thoughtful and fair feedback that will foster their intellectual growth.
Nearly ten years ago, in April 2004, the Faculty adopted a University grading policy. The policy recommends that each department, over time, award no more than 35% of A-range grades for course work, and no more than 55% of A-range grades for junior and senior independent work. The Faculty Committee on Grading has stated that:
“The grading policy has two fundamental objectives. The first is that the Princeton faculty wants grading to be done in such a way that students in one academic department can expect to be graded according to the same standards as students in any other academic department. …. The second reason for the adoption of the grading policy is the conviction that students deserve clear signals from their teachers about the difference between their ordinarily good work and their very best work."
Since the implementation of the policy ten years ago, the number of A-range grades awarded across departments has become much more consistent. Likewise, the grade inflation of the late ‘90s and early 2000s has been halted. Yet concerns persist that the grading policy may have had unintended impacts upon the undergraduate academic experience that are not consistent with our broader educational goals.
The University periodically reviews major policies to determine whether they continue to serve its mission. The tenth anniversary of the grading policy’s enactment is an appropriate time to undertake such a review. I have accordingly asked a committee of faculty members to spend the next year exploring a set of broad questions about the evaluation of student work:
1. Do the objectives of the Grading Policy, as recapitulated by the Faculty Committee on Grading, remain the appropriate ones against which to judge Princeton’s assessment practices?
2. Does the current Policy achieve the University’s pedagogical goals effectively and with as few negative consequences as possible, or are there better ways to do so?
I would ask the Committee, in the course of its deliberations, to consider any available evidence about the effects that the current policy might have on levels of feedback that students receive on academic work; the success of Princeton students with regard to employment processes and graduate school admissions; and the attitude of students toward their academic work and their peers. I would also ask the Committee to consider whether a grading policy might achieve Princeton’s aims more effectively, and with fewer side-effects, if it were to focus on clear standards, thoughtful rubrics and effective feedback, with less emphasis on numerical targets.
I expect that the Committee will consult broadly with the University community about the questions pending before it. I will ask the Committee to conclude its deliberations by recommending to the faculty any changes to the University’s grading policies that would, in the Committee’s judgment, improve our assessment practices, our pedagogy, and our general learning environment.