Stanly Community College eliminated D's from its grading scale, and students seem to be benefiting. The change prompted conversation about how students’ progress is evaluated, and whether this is the best approach to increase student success.
John Enamait, president of Stanly Community College, said a number of factors contributed to the college’s decision. Universities will not grant a student credit for a course in which they received a D. Students at Stanly were also not allowed to take a higher level course if they earned a D in the prerequisite.
“It was determined that the grade of D was actually not helping students in any way -- it was actually beginning to hinder students in their ability to progress,” Enamait said. “What we were finding is that, inside the institution, the grade of D really, for most intents and purposes, was the equivalent of an F.”
The Comprehensive Articulation Agreement (CAA) between the UNC-system’s Board of Governors and the North Carolina Community College System outlines transfer requirements and equivalencies. It says students must make a certain grade in the CAA courses they take to be eligible for a transfer.
“A North Carolina community college student who satisfactorily completes, with a grade of C or better, courses identified in the Universal General Education Transfer Component will receive credit applied toward the university’s lower-division general education course requirements,” the document says.
Since Stanly made the change to its grading scale, its student transfer success rate rose 15 percent. Enamait said while Stanly does not yet have concrete data to prove how strong the correlation between the rise and the change in grading is, the timing of the change suggests a correlation.
He said students who were earning D's were confused when they passed a class with a D, but then were not allowed to move up a level or get transfer credit for that class.
“We did expect some students to be upset,” he said. “But by eliminating the D, students understand more fully. It’s actually helped clarify that grading issue for students.”
Gregory Cizek, a professor in the UNC School of Education, said there could be both positive and negative effects of grading policies like the one at Stanly. He said one negative result could be students ability to transfer but inability to perform well.
“You need to examine what the grades are intended to mean,” Cizek said. “If a D grade is intended to mean less than mastery of the course, then the policy is sort of providing some misinformation to the institutions that the students are transferring to.”
Cizek said a D is supposed to tell students, parents and instructors that the student needs more help. If other institutions implement similar policies, they must consider whether it improves student success.
“One thing that institutions can do is track student progress more carefully during the semester, so that students are getting the help they need throughout the semester,” Cizek said. “For students who do get failing or barely passing grades, provide additional assistance to them after the semester.”
The recommendation to change the grading scale at Stanly did not come from the administration, but from faculty.
“This really came up through the ranks of the faculty observing that D's really didn’t do students any good,” Enamait said. “I’m proud of my little college for being willing to challenge the status quo.”
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