Princeton University to Eliminate `Grade Deflation’ Policy

Nassau HallThe Princeton faculty voted to approve changes to the school’s undergraduate grading policy this afternoon, eliminating the percentage cap on A’s that a faculty committee said caused students too much stress.

The 35-percent cap on A’s that was adopted a decade ago as part of what became commonly known as Princeton University’s grade deflation policy was too often misinterpreted as a quota and students felt they were competing for a limited resource of A grades, according the faculty committee that studied the issue.

Now each academic department will develop its own grading standards.

In reviewing the recent history of grading at Princeton, the faculty committee found that grades began to decline a year before the grading policy was enacted, largely in response to greater awareness of grading issues among the faculty.

When assessing the impact of the grade deflation policy, the committee found no evidence that it had any measurable negative impact on Princeton students’ competitiveness for graduate school, professional schools, postgraduate fellowships or employment.

“The best reasons to change Princeton’s grading policy have more to do with psychological factors and campus atmosphere than with any tangible effects it has on the prospects of our students,” the committee said.

The committee also reported that there was a false perception among potential applicants to Princeton that under the grade deflation policy, students might not be properly rewarded for their work. The committee concluded that “removing numerical targets would go a long way towards alleviating these concerns. … People fixate on numbers, and the very existence of a numerical guideline such as 35 percent serves as a lightning rod, giving (perhaps wrongly) the impression of inflexibility. Removing the numerical target without changing the intent of the policy would solve many of these issues.”

At the start of each year, a committee will review the grading history for each department and program, and the dean of the college will continue to report to the faculty on the grading record of the previous academic year.

“The Committee on Examinations and Standing is firmly committed to the integrity of the University’s grading system and believes that these proposed measures will support rigor, fairness and transparency in assessment and grading practices while achieving the University’s pedagogical goals,” the committee wrote.

The committee that studied the issue also recommended that school policies regarding the assessment of student work should move away from grades, and instead focus on the quality of feedback. The faculty approved a committee recommendation today to charge a newly formed “Council Teaching and Learning” with advancing efforts to improve the quality of feedback regarding student work.