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Grade Distribution 2016-2017, 1

A source sent us the official registrar’s report (pdf) on the distribution of grades in 2016-2017. (Relevant background: data for 2008-2009 and 2013-2014, recent Record coverage, and prior EphBlog discussion.) Day 1.

1) Someone needs to write a thesis about grade inflation at Williams, an update, 20 years later, to “When A=average : the origins and economic implications of grade inflation at Williams College and other elite institutions,” by Peter Siniawer ’97. (And why isn’t this thesis available on-line?)

2) We need more transparency about grading at Williams. Recall my (unsuccessful) efforts to get the registrar to provide this data. Almost anything that is distributed to hundreds of faculty at Williams ought to be made public. Interested alumni/students/parents should not have to depend on EphBlog’s sources . . .

3) Division 1 should be called out for not holding the line on grades:

grades

The most distressing aspect of the differences across Divisions (and across departments) is the bad signals that it sends to students. If a student gets a B+ in an intro Computer Science class but an A in Theater, she might thing that this means she is “better” at theater than computer science. Isn’t this one way that Williams guides her on choosing a major that matches her abilities? But, of course, the College is lying to her. She is an average student in computer science and in theater. Lax grading by the latter is misleading her.

Of course, if the Theater Department, and Division 1 departments more generally, want more students, then misleading them about their actual talents may be just what the ticket . . .

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#1 Comment By Alum-Anon On August 28, 2017 @ 4:35 pm

Ah, the dangers of misusing and misreading data… I would suggest that this information is pretty incomplete without considering aspects to the data such as the total range of grades given and some representation of the distributions.

One hypothesis that could be considered from the information provided here is that there is less of a gradient from 100-level to upper-level courses in Division 1, as compared with Divisions 2 and 3. One wonders the extent to which “disciplinary tribalism,” broadly considered, plays a role here.

Another (somewhat more pragmatic) hypothesis would be that in terms of overall grade performance, incoming students might be best served by taking as much AP credit in Division 3 as possible and endeavoring to test out of lower level Division 3 classes altogether.

#2 Comment By Dick Swart On August 28, 2017 @ 8:30 pm

None of this was a concern in the by-gone days of the ‘Gentleman C”.

#3 Comment By Matthew497 On August 29, 2017 @ 4:13 am

I know this is quite irrelevant but what does the “25” quoted beside your name actually denote? I can’t seem to stop thinking that you were from class of 1925!

#4 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On August 29, 2017 @ 7:36 am

The ’25 refers to the class of 1825. David Dudley Field ’25 is a pseudonym.

#5 Comment By Dick Swart On August 29, 2017 @ 10:54 am

Lest David Dudley Field II Class of 1825 as the name chosen by David for his nom de plume pass too quickly, this reference:

David Dudley Field II (February 13, 1805 – April 13, 1894) was an American lawyer and law reformer who made major contributions to the development of American civil procedure. His greatest accomplishment was engineering the move away from common law pleading towards code pleading, which culminated in the enactment of the Field Code in 1850 by the state of New York.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Dudley_Field_II

#6 Comment By Dick Swart On August 29, 2017 @ 5:44 pm

Further:

In the Olden Days as I recall, the grade system ran up to 5.0. Thus the remarkable Freshman Phenom – Brownlee ‘5.0” Gauld.