UNF divided on grading policy

Spinnaker

After taking several classes at UNF, students might notice the grading scales used in their courses vary among faculty members.

Earning a 90 percent with one professor who considers it to be an A lends a GPA of 4.0, while taking the same course and scoring 90 percent with a professor who considers it an A-minus results in a GPA of 3.7.

Many students perceive this as an unfair system, according to the Florida Student Association, who argued in the past that students are disadvantaged by the varying grading policies.

But Dr. David Jaffee, the assistant vice president for Undergraduate Studies, believes the main objection to unifying the grading system within the school is the concern for the faculty’s academic freedom, he said.

“It is difficult to dictate or command the faculty how to grade,” said Jaffee, a sociology professor. “Faculty prefer discretion; they are professionals, and therefore make professional judgments about better or worse performance.”

Dr. Barbara Hetrick, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, agreed, noting she did not see the system as unfair nor would be willing to change the way professors chose the grading scales.

“We cannot be too prescriptive,” Hetrick said. “What is appropriate is determined by the teacher who is in the classroom.”

But students have a hard time agreeing with this situational view, including Shannon Clarke, a senior sociology major, who believes the grading system should be unified throughout the school.

“Grades are, in many instances, based on whether the [professors] remember you showing up to class. That alone makes grades already subjective,” Clarke said. “By giving professors more discretion, you add more subjectivity on top of it.”

However, both Hetrick and Jaffee agree there might be other factors that influence the way
professors grade.

“There has been a grade inflation, which means that grades have been crept up because of the increasing pressure to give better grades,” Hetrick said.

This pressure is mainly caused by the teachers’ evaluations – ISQ forms – that are completed at the end of each course.

“People have different approaches to evaluating professors just as professors evaluate students based on their perception of what has been happening in the classroom,” Hetrick said.

Though it is important the university approaches the ISQ forms with the understanding that more favorable evaluations are positively related to the amount of better grades given in the classroom, Hetrick said.

“When we evaluate the ISQs, we cannot make a distinction based on half a point and conclude that a teacher with ISQ of 3.2 and a teacher with ISQ of 3.7 are substantially different,” Hetrick said.

The same should be applied to students who are concerned about unfair competition since it is their overall performance that distinguishes what they do later in life, Hetrick said.

“Education and learning is all that matters,” Jaffee said. “But there is always that one requirement – we do have to assign a letter grade to the student. And once we assign the grade, there are several ways how to get to that grade, so even if we unified the grading system, it wouldn’t solve the problem.”

For students considering graduate school, there is more than a GPA that will be considered, including standardized test scores and extra curricular activities, Hetrick said.

“If all you have to bring to the table is 4.0 [GPA], graduate schools might not be interested because they want to see club experience and overall well-rounded education,” Hetrick said. “Grades were never meant to be the ultimate indicator of students’ performance. They were supposed to be an index.”

But Hetrick knows the system has its flaws, she said.

“There are different schools and different professors whose quality varies. Therefore the quality of education is relative,” Hetrick said. “It is not a perfect system.”

E-mail Andrea Farah at [email protected]