Faculty committee will review assessment and grading policies

Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber has charged a new faculty committee with reviewing the University's policies for how student work is evaluated. The Ad Hoc Committee to Review Policies Regarding Assessment and Grading will explore whether the University's assessment guidelines remain effective and appropriate.

The committee will be chaired by Clarence Rowley, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and expects to meet over the next year. The nine members include some current or past members of the Faculty Committee on Grading and the Faculty Committee on Examinations and Standing, as well as faculty who regularly teach large numbers of undergraduates.

"The University periodically reviews and revises policies so that Princeton can pursue its teaching and research mission as effectively as possible," Eisgruber said. "Nearly 10 years have passed since the faculty enacted our current grading policy, and our experience with it may enable us to identify ways to improve how we evaluate student work and provide feedback about it."

In April 2004, the faculty adopted a grading policy that aimed to provide common grading standards across academic departments and to give students clear signals from their teachers about the difference between good work and their very best work. The policy recommended that, over time, each department award no more than 35 percent of A-range grades for course work and no more than 55 percent of A-range grades for junior and senior independent work.

In his charge, Eisgruber has asked the committee to explore whether the grading policy's objectives remain the appropriate ones against which to judge Princeton's assessment practices. He also has asked them to examine whether the policy achieves the University's pedagogical goals effectively, with as few negative consequences as possible, or if there are better ways to reach those goals.

"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," Eisgruber wrote. "Yet concerns persist that the grading policy may have unintended impacts upon the undergraduate academic experience that are not consistent with our broader educational goals."

The committee is being asked to consult broadly with the University community to consider issues such as:

  • the effects that the current policy has on the levels of feedback students receive on academic work;
  • the success of Princeton students with regard to employment and graduate school admissions;
  • the attitude of students toward their academic work and peers; and
  • if a grading policy "might achieve the University's goals 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."

The committee may recommend to the faculty changes to the grading policies to improve assessment practices, teaching methods and the University's general learning environment.

"The evaluation of student work is a critical component of a liberal arts education," Eisgruber wrote. "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."

Other members of the committee are: Henry Farber, the Hughes-Rogers Professor of Economics and director of the Industrial Relations Section; Devin Fore, associate professor of German; Alison Gammie, senior lecturer in molecular biology; William Gleason, professor of English and chair of the Department of English; Joshua Katz, professor of classics; Brian Kernighan, professor of computer science; Bess Ward, the William J. Sinclair Professor of Geosciences and chair of the Department of Geosciences; and Robert Wuthnow, the Gerhard R. Andlinger '52 Professor of Social Sciences, professor of sociology and director of the Center for the Study of Religion. Associate Dean of the College Elizabeth Colagiuri will serve as staff to the committee.

"I am grateful to Professor Rowley for chairing this committee and to all the faculty members who have agreed to serve on it," Eisgruber said.