Discussion of Grading Trends at UNC-CH: A Timeline
Based on Faculty Council minutes, reports, and resolutions online at: http://www.unc.edu/faculty/faccoun/. Please note that documents prior to 1998 are not available on the web.
Compiled by Anne Mitchell Whisnant, Ph.D.
Office of Faculty Governance
October 2, 2009
- April 1976: “Report of the Committee on Grading” submitted to Faculty Council by ad-hoc faculty committee concerned with grade inflation since the late 1960s (during what turned out to be the first of two major phases of grade inflation from the mid-1960s to the present).
- Late 1970s: Carolina Course Review developed. Originally a project of Student Government, the CCR collected course evaluation information from students and published it in a consumer guide to assist other students in selecting courses and instructors.
- Early 1980s: Concerns about turnover in student leadership, inconsistent data collection, and inaccuracies led to an effort (in conjunction with faculty and staff leadership) to formalize and systematize the CCR. As this happened, departments of the university began to use the results of the CCR student surveys as part of faculty personnel evaluations for promotion.
- 1996-97 Academic Year: CCR shifted publication from paper to the web. Concern about privacy issues, especially in light of problems with the CCR survey methods and flaws in its data, arose among faculty.
- April 25, 1997: Faculty Council passed Resolution 1997-12, which limited web access to the CCR to the UNC campus network until some concerns surrounding it could be resolved. Faculty Council requested that the Educational Policy Committee (chaired by Prof. Anthony Passannante, Anesthesiology) review issues surrounding the publication of the CCR on the web and report back to the Council. (This chain of events is discussed in the EPC's "Report on Web Publication of Carolina Course Review," 3/17/98.)
- March 27, 1998: EPC submitted its “Report on Web Publication of Carolina Course Review” (based on research conducted by Prof. Boone Turchi, Economics) to Faculty Council.
- March 27, 1998: Faculty Council passed resolutions 1998-2 and 1998-3 restricting web availability of the CCR to computers physically connected to the campus network and banning use of the CCR in personnel evaluation for faculty.
- September 11, 1998: At request of a committee looking at developing a new method of course evaluation, Faculty Council passed Resolution 1998-9 permitting use of some CCR data in faculty personnel evaluations for one more year (98-99). Resolution requested formation of a task force to design a new system for teaching evaluation.
- April 5, 1999: Report of Task Force on Student Evaluation of Teaching (Prof. Doug Kelly, Statistics, Chair) proposed a new student teaching evaluation instrument and advocated that funding for management of the new system be allocated to the Center for Teaching and Learning. Faculty Council endorsed the report’s recommendations in Resolution 1999-4.
- February 2, 2000: Educational Policy Committee, chaired by Prof. Boone Turchi (Economics), presented “Grade Inflation at UNC-Chapel Hill” (aka the “Turchi Report”) to Faculty Council. Some key points:
- Report noted that it had grown out of the investigation into the CCR – specifically in the recognition of a correlation between student expectation of receive higher grades and high ratings of instructor performance.
- Report found that UNC-CH was in the midst of its second major phase of grade inflation since 1967 (first phase was 1967-76; second began in late 1980s when, it noted, the university began requiring course evaluations for all faculty and persisted through the time of the report).
- The report presented a detailed analysis of grading trends from approximately 1987-2000 across all departments and schools. It called attention to problems of compression (a narrower span of possible grades) and “horizontal inequity” (generally lower grades across the natural sciences and mathematics than in the humanities).
- Report concluded that “the substantive meaning of the letter grades has ceased to be interpretable, and their use in distinguishing among the varieties of student performance is problematic at best.”
- Report defined grades as reflections of relative “mastery of subject matter” and endorsed collective attention to grading policy by faculty through Faculty Council in order to “restore the integrity of the grading system.”
- While refraining from endorsing a mandated curve, report advocated a number of reforms, including adoption of a consistent university-wide set of expectations for each letter grade and a target GPA for the undergraduate student body overall and for individual departments and schools of approximately 2.6-2.7. It recommended regular monitoring by Provost, department chairs and deans, and Faculty Council (through EPC) of departmental adherence to grading standards.
- April 28, 2000: Faculty Council passes Resolution 2000-8, which created (by appointment by the Chair of the Faculty), a Task Force on Grading Standards to collect information on grading during the 2000-01 academic year and report back to Faculty Council.
- April 20, 2001: Task Force on Grading Standards (Beverly Long, Communications Studies, Chair) submitted its report and its Addendum on the Definition of Grades to Faculty Council. Based on its independent analysis of the possible reasons for changes in grading over time, this report conveyed less of a sense of alarm over grading changes than had the Turchi report. Key points:
- It opened by emphasizing that “a grade represents a faculty member's evaluation of a student's work. Thus, grading is the right and responsibility of individual faculty members working with their students in a disciplinary context, guided by their chair and dean.”
- It specifically noted that “some faculty members have suggested that there is a link between rising grades and the use of student evaluations, but empirical studies fail to show any causative relationship.”
- It went on to say that “at research universities student evaluations play only a minor role in promotion, tenure, and merit pay decisions in most departments. The reward system weighs research productivity and grantsmanship far more than teaching, so it is especially unlikely that the advent of the Carolina Course Review had much of an impact on grading practices at UNC, anecdotal evidence notwithstanding.”
- The Task Force declined to recommend a comprehensive university-wide grading target, but instead recommended closer monitoring of grading patters within each school and department against the set of standards for A, B, C, D, and F that the EPC’s 2000 report had enumerated.
- September 7, 2001: Faculty Council approved Resolution 2001-5 endorsing the Task Force on Grading Standards report, requesting ongoing monitoring of grading standards and practices at the unit level and annual aggregated reporting on grading patterns by Deans and the University Registrar, and charging EPC with reporting to Faculty Council annually on the state of grading practices at UNC - Chapel Hill.
- 2001-04: EPC continued to monitor grading on an annual basis and report to Faculty Council.
- April 23, 2004: EPC’s annual report to Faculty Council surveyed past work on grading and called for input from faculty on how the issue of rising grades should be addressed. It made three important observations:
- The committee itself shared the same divided views about grading that had been represented by the Turchi and Long reports: “A substantial majority of current EPC members believe that grade inflation is a serious problem that the University should address. However, a smaller group on EPC believes that grading practices are not a serious problem. These differing perspectives are similar to those found in the two reports mentioned above and in discussions of this issue at other universities.”
- In looking at grades since the Turchi report, the EPC also noted that “At the time of the Turchi Report, the most frequently given letter grade was B with A not far behind. Since then, A has passed B to become the most commonly given letter grade at Carolina.”
- Online services like “Pick-a-Prof” were now providing public dissemination of grading practices, increasing students’ ability to consider past grading practices when choosing classes.
- April 23, 2004: In the wake of the discussion of the EPC annual report, the “sense of the Faculty Council” (no resolution passed) was that EPC should return to Council with specific recommendations on managing grading.
- April 22, 2005: EPC’s annual report to the Faculty Council broached the possibility of developing a system of an “adjusted GPA,” in which grades would be weighted based on the overall distribution of grades in a class, to address the matter of grade inflation. EPC suggested that the adjusted GPA might be a more appropriate criterion for awarding distinction and highest distinction. The adjusted GPA idea, they noted, was based on a system developed by statistician Valen Johnson, previously at Duke.
- February 16, 2007: EPC reported that its subcommittee on grading (chaired by Peter Gordon) would soon be prepared to present a proposal for adoption of the “Achievement Index,” a system of weighting grades to develop an adjusted GPA that would better account for disparate grading patterns across disciplines.
- March 23, 2007: EPC grading subcommittee chair Peter Gordon presented information on the Achievement Index to Faculty Council. (EPC's Grading Proposal is here.)
- April 13, 2007: Special faculty forum held to discuss Achievement Index further.
- April 27, 2007: EPC presented a resolution to Faculty Council advocating adoption of the Achievement Index. Student Body President Eve Carson, noting that 800 students had signed a petition against the resolution, urged its defeat. On a roll-call vote, the resolution failed, with 34 voting against, and 31 for.
- February 22, 2008: EPC’s annual report stated that it would seek funding from the Provost for a small pilot project on the Achievement Index.
- January 16, 2009: EPC reported that the Provost denied funding for the Achievement Index pilot study due to budget concerns and complications of implementing the pilot in conjunction with bringing the new ERP program online. It presented a draft of its new comprehensive report on grading, developed by the EPC subcommittee on grading chair Prof. Donna Gilleskie (Economics).
- April 24, 2009: EPC presented its final report on “Grading Patterns at UNC-CH, 1995-2008,” written by Prof. Gilleskie and characterized as “the most detailed, comprehensive report on grading practices and history to date.” The report said that “grades assigned in classes at UNC-CH have continued to rise over time (with an average grade in fall 2008 of 3.213), are more concentrated in the upper range of the grade distribution (with 82% of grades being A or B in fall 2008), and exhibit disparities across and, in some cases, within departments.” The report identified three “related, but distinct” issues:
- Grade inflation: to the extent that similar quality work tends to be awarded higher grades in later years, UNC-CH is experiencing grade inflation.
- Grade compression: to the extent that continuously improving student performance cannot receive grades higher than A due to the nature of the grading scale, UNC-CH is experiencing grade compression.
- Grade inequality: to the extent that different departments and/or instructors assign different grades for similar performance, UNC-CH is experiencing systematic grading inequality.