QueensYOU: Our Platform (28 February 2012)

As sent to Queen’s Senators by Ryan Marchildon on 28 February 2012 (with minor corrections by the authors).  See also Ryan Marchildon, “Letter to Senate on the GPA System.”

To our friends and colleagues at Queen’s University:

QueensYOU is spearheading a movement to address several concerns regarding the present implementation of the GPA scheme. Although this issue has been the subject of debate for quite some time, we would like to present the real facts: students are beginning to report difficulties in seeking scholarships, graduate studies and employmentthat are directly related to the abrupt discontinuation of percentage-based grades.

Here are some of the most common complaints:

1. Students with averages between 80% and 85% are being refused candidacy for external scholarships because their GPA mark is below the required threshold. Furthermore, for identical reasons, many students who previously qualified for Honours/Dean’s List are no longer eligible. [This is particularly hurtful to students in the transition since earlier grades were assigned according to the percentage system – thus a 79.4% that might otherwise have been bumped up to an 80% to make the next GPA level was instead kept as a 79.4%.]

2. Potential employers are annoyed that they can no longer contrast a student’s performance with respect to that of his or her peers. A GPA grade, especially when unaccompanied by a rank or class average for comparison, is not providing enough context to make this assessment.

3. Some students applying to competitive institutions are being provided with letters from their departments to explain why their GPAs do not meet the application requirements, even though their raw percentage grades do.  But the highly competitive nature of top schools makes it uncertain whether such explanatory letters will be taken into consideration.  In addition, when asked to electronically submit their grades, the lack of any percentage grade whatsoever in recently-completed courses forces them to abandon the option of stating percent grades altogether. [As outlined in point #4 below, the percent grades often better-distinguish them from other candidates]

4. Many of the top-performing students are no longer distinguished under the GPA scale. A student with an average of 92-94% in the technical sciences, with upwards of a quarter of all courses having a score of 95% or greater, easily finds themselves ambiguously lumped within the 85-90% GPA category. Similarly, the large group of students with scores in the 80s are lumped into two ‘baskets’, making it difficult to differentiate individual performances (i.e. 89% means the same as an 85%).

5. Finally, student performance becomes artificially distorted when translated from one GPA scale to another. This is particularly a problem for students looking to represent the Queen’s degree abroad. Conversely, a percentage grade is universally understood and can be converted to any scale with far less distortion. [If you are interested, here is a brief glance at some of the scales used here and elsewhere]:

  • Queen’s University – 4.3 scale, nonlinear (i.e. abrupt transitions, 79.9% = 3.3, 80.0% = 3.7)
  • University of Toronto – 4.0 scale, nonlinear
  • Princeton – 4.0 scale, linear (i.e. no abrupt transitions, 86% = 3.1, 87% = 3.2, 88% = 3.3, etc)
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology – 5.0 scale, linear
  • Many German Institutions – works backwards with 1.0 being the highest, 4.0 being among the lowest.

Here is what we intend to do about it:

It is clear to us that the present system is detrimental to the success of our students. Our proposal is simple: the GPA scale will continue to be used for internal assessments (i.e. pass/fail, degree awarded/degree denied), but official transcripts will be augmented with two additional pieces of information: raw percentage grade received and the course average. This is similar to the implementation found at the University of Toronto, as well as in some departments at McGill University. Such a modification would rectify most of the issues addressed above. We are confident that by working cooperatively with the administration, a feasible way of implementing this improvement can be found.

To have a hope of succeeding, however, this issue must remain alive within the University Senate. In the past, policy-makers have not adequately responded to requests by staff and faculty to address these concerns. Consequently we are organizing a student-run initiative to make the administration aware of the severity of the issue and the number of those affected.  We will be attempting to have these concerns voiced directly to the Senate through student representatives. We will also be initiating a letter-writing campaign to help underscore the number of students who feel that they are being disadvantaged.

Here is how you can help:

If you find yourself identifying with many of the points above, or if you feel that your students have similar concerns, we invite you to encourage your classes and colleagues to discuss this issue and ways in which they can get involved in the push for change. For more information, students can contact us at fix.our.transcripts@gmail.com or join our Facebook group, “Fix Our Transcripts: The QueensYOU Campaign” (www.facebook.com/groups/312695085454131/). The Facebook group is a new addition but will soon feature many events/actions that students can directly participate in to voice their opinions.

The time to act is now. This could be our last chance.

Cha Gheill! – QueensYOU

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