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Contextualized grading delayed to educate students on changes

Some want additional student input on contextualized grading.

The Dec. 9 email announcing the delay was the first time freshman Dani Callahan had ever heard about contextualized grading.

“I had to look it up myself to find what it meant a couple weeks ago when the email was sent out, and I still don’t know what it means,” she said.

Contextualized grading allows students to compare their final grade in a class with that of their peers. It would change the format of undergraduate transcripts by listing a student’s letter grade alongside the median grade in the section and percentile range from the median.

The contextualized transcript would also include an idea developed at UNC: the schedule point average, which averages the median grade point average for the set of classes the student took that semester.

“It adds key pieces of information that gives transcript readers a much better sense of what those grades mean,” said Andrew Perrin, a sociology professor supporting the change.

A 2009 report identified three problems with UNC grading — grade inflation, grade compression and systematic grading inequality.

In 1995, 27.8 percent of undergraduates received the Dean’s List distinction in the fall, while 40.1 percent were placed on the Dean’s List in fall 2008, according to the report

Proponents of contextualized grading say it will help identify grade dynamics and create more transparency.

Christopher Derickson, assistant provost and university registrar, said the delay stemmed from concerns about formatting and lack of research on how the change would affect students.

“We want to know how this is going to impact students,” he said. “We’ve been working on it for more than a year but did not have the additional testing that I wanted to have.”

Derickson said one of the biggest problems was making the transcripts clear to employers and graduate schools.

“I don’t want to say I believe it’s technologically ready,” he said. “I want to know 100 percent that it is ready to implement.”

In December, student government pushed to delay the implementation of contextualized transcript.

Student Body Vice President Kyle Villemain said students should be educated about transcript changes before their implementation, especially because the original idea was pushed by students in 2010.

“Current students should weigh in and decide whether there are benefits to this rolling out or not,” he said.

Perrin said contextualized grading has been implemented at other universities but not to the scope for which it is planned at UNC.

“We are very much a leader in this area,” he said.

Derickson said upperclassmen had voiced concerns about seeing a mix of contextual and noncontextual information on their transcripts. He hopes to use the delay to talk to more students and perhaps give them access to an unofficial contextualized transcript.

“I would like to have an extended period where we would have live testing for students,” he said. “And I would have samples go out to schools and employers.”

Connor Choka, a Hispanic linguistics major, said he understands the premise behind contextualized grading, but said he would like to know how contextualized grading will specifically work at UNC.

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“I’d like one of the individuals in administration, maybe Chancellor Folt or the Dean of Students, to explain what it is and how it’s going to benefit us as students and as a University,” Choka said.