New Carlson school grading policy looks to lessen competition

The previous policy adjusted student's grades in relation to their classmates, which created a competitive atmosphere.

Students gather in a common area inside the Carlson School of Management on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019.

Nur B. Adam

Students gather in a common area inside the Carlson School of Management on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019.

Michael McGough

A new grading policy enacted at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management this fall aims to reduce competitive culture within the school. 

Carlson’s faculty members voted in April to remove a policy that had been in place since 2006, which encouraged professors to ensure the average grades in their courses were either a B or and mandating students’ grades were determined in relation to their classmates. Now, professors are able to adjust their grading system as they see fit.

Raj Singh, Carlson’s associate dean, said the 2006 grading policy was implemented to prevent inconsistent grades across different sections of the same course and to keep the college’s average grades from continuing to rise. High average scores could signal that the coursework was not difficult enough, he said.

“We felt students could be asked to learn more and put more rigor on their classes,” Singh said.

The old policy accomplished these goals, but it created a competitive culture among students, Singh said. 

“Students felt that they were now competing against each other all the time. We felt that there was an ugly pattern of behaviors,” Singh said.

The new grading guidelines give professors the freedom to customize the grading systems for their courses.

“What we’re suggesting to faculty is that they are, in the end, responsible for the grades and the rigor of their class, but we will strongly suggest that they provide the students some clear cut-offs up front,” Singh said.

Previously, course grades were relative and there was not an established distinction between letter grades. 

The syllabus for professor Alex Wilson’s spring 2019 Business Strategy course under the previous policy describes a process of ranking students’ performances at the end of the semester and distributing their grades “in accordance with a distribution that conforms to the Carlson School grading policies.” 

Under the new grading guidelines this fall, professor Joe Redden’s Marketing in Action course has a clearly defined grading structure that is based on the percent of points earned. 

The syllabus for Redden’s class says, “A student scoring higher than a 90% is guaranteed at least an A, higher than an 80% is guaranteed at least a B, and so on.”

Singh said the new guidelines will encourage professors to evaluate students as individuals rather than in relation to their classmates.

“I’d rather have instructors and professors think about what they want the students to learn. I would like them to judge the students based on their knowledge gained, and not how they’re doing compared to others,” Singh said.

Some students feel ambivalent about the new grading guidelines.

“This gives professors a lot of power, and I don’t know if I trust all my professors,” said junior Rithika Muralidharan.

Muralidharan said some professors are lenient and some are strict, so she said she is concerned that there will be variation in the ways professors set up their grading systems.

Others said the new grading guidelines will be more transparent than the previous policy.

Senior Noah Peterson, a finance major, said it will be nice to have clearly defined cut-offs so that students will receive whatever grade they earn.

“I think education is more about learning the material, mastering the material — not doing better than the person sitting next to you,” Singh said.