Back in 2004, Princeton was lauded for a policy attempting to reduce the steady upward march of grades at the university; it recommended that departments give no more than 35% of their students A-range grades. It may now reverse the decision after a faculty report (pdf) (endorsed by the school’s president) released on Aug. 7 found that the policy had a range of unintended, negative consequences.
According to the report, the 35% recommendation was “too often misinterpreted as quotas,” which leads to distortion, and make students feel like they’re competing for a limited number of As. It became a line in the sand instead of a benchmark, to undesirable result.
The question the report grapples with is whether more equality in grading is always better. The conclusion was no, that putting the same standard across departments actually separated grades from performance, and didn’t account for how different departments are.
Dissatisfied students created a website that transforms a Princeton GPA into an estimate of their average had they attended inflation prone Harvard. The site estimates a 3.4 at Princeton would be a 3.56 at Harvard.
Students also cited a range of other undesirable outcomes, including questionable behavior from faculty. One student had a professor give him a paper where a score of 91 had been scratched out and replaced with an 88, and told it was because of the grade deflation policy. Another had a language professor tell the class at the beginning of the semester that only 3 of the 11 students would receive an A.
The report cited increased anxiety among students, a perception of decreased competitiveness for jobs and graduate school spots, reports that students are more anxious or less inclined to choose Princeton over another school, and a particular pressure on newly matriculated students, who usually come from a high school where they were a top performer.