Instructors at Yale should be aware of the College’s significant issues regarding grade inflation: “For many departments now, there are in effect only three grades used: A, A-minus, and B-plus. For the less generous departments, B is added to this group. Yale is approaching the point, at least in some departments, in which the only grades are A and A-minus, which is close to having no grading” (Yale College’s Revised Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Grading, April 2013). Instructors may keep this fact in mind when engaging students during mid- and final- term assessments.
While grade inflation at Yale creates a uniformity among the marks given to students, grading practices vary across departments and disciplines, and instructors should seek departmental colleagues for shared and adopted protocols.
The College does require a small set of grading practices from all Yale instructors. The Handbook for Instructors of Undergraduates in Yale College institutionalizes three basic grading practices for instructors:
- Letter Grades - “Instructors submit letter grades to the registrar for all students in their courses. For a Yale College student who has elected the Credit/D/Fail option, the registrar converts grades of A, A–, B+, B, B–, C+, C, and C– to CR and enters that mark on the student’s record. Grades of D+, D, D–, and F are recorded as reported.”
- A+ cannot be given at Yale. Instead, exemplary work may be noted with an End-of-Term Report where an instructor explains the student’s exceptional performance. These reports are sent to the student’s residential college dean who may reference the report when they write a letter of recommendation for the student or otherwise recommend the student for a Yale prize or fellowship.
- Additionally, if an instructor fails a student, they must submit an End-of-Term Report explaining the situation.
Table 1. Course Letter Grades B+ C+ A = Excellent B = Good C = Satisfactory D = Passing F = Fail A- B- C- D-
- Midterm Feedback - “The Yale College Course of Study Committee requires instructors to provide students with some sort of feedback on their academic progress by around the middle of the term. The purpose of this policy is to allow students to have some measure of their standing in a course and of their mastery of its materials, so that if they are doing badly they can take prompt remedial action.”
- “There are no midterm grades as such, although midterm is considered a time for the instructor to give students an informal assessment of their work as well as to alert the residential college deans of those students having difficulty in a course.”
- The “Instructor’s Midterm Report, a form used for reporting information about students doing unsatisfactory work, particularly those who are in danger of failing a course….should be filled out for each student the instructor considers to be at a D or an F level.”
- Graded Assignments - “In addition to a final examination or a paper due at the end of the term, instructors should plan some other graded assignments during the term, such as a midterm test, an oral report, or a short paper.”
- Letter grades for all assignments - Many classes that assign papers or essay exams to assess students will exclusively use letters for grading. This grading practice is the norm for humanities and social science seminars.
- Numerical grades on all assignments - Yale’s official letter grades do not correspond with a specific range of numerical grades. Thus, if an instructor elects to use numerical grades for individual assignments, they should create a number-to-letter-grade conversion system and make sure their students understand how their final grades will be calculated. This grading practice is the norm for STEM courses and frequently used for humanities and social science exams.
- Revision and resubmission policy - Some classes allow students to rework term assignments in order to help students attain mastery regardless of their initial skill/knowledge level. The instructor gives students a chance - or sometimes multiple opportunities - to respond to instructor feedback, re-work their product, and re-submit an assignment. Some instructors allow for students to rework and resubmit until an assignment reaches the grade-level quality (and grade) a student desires.
- Grading on a curve - Some instructors may choose to assign grades along a certain distribution. Sometimes the curves are structured to benefit students grades, such as adding free points to an exam until a certain number of students achieve 100s. Other curves seek to deflate grades, for example, by adding limits and quotas for how letter grades are distributed in the class. (Note: When the Ad Hoc Committee on Grading in 2013 proposed recommending grade distributions to deflate grades, this particular proposal was met with significant student opposition including organized protests. The faculty ultimately voted against adopting this proposal.)
- Borderline grades - Some instructors at Yale will mark a paper A-/B+ to let a student know that their paper or project was borderline between two grades. This kind of ambiguity can be especially confusing for underclassmen, and instructors who choose to use in-between grades should clearly communicate their pedagogical purpose.
- Attendance and grades - There is no University-wide policy on attendance and no minimum number of classes that students are required to attend - instead, students are expected to show up “regularly.” Lectures typically do not take attendance, and in many if not most courses, attendance has no impact on grades. If an instructor desires to implement an attendance policy, they can establish clear guidelines on their syllabus for how a missed class or section will affect student grades. A common policy for seminars allows three absences before decreasing student letter grades by one half (on their class participation, final project, or even overall letter grade) for each additional absence unless the student has a Dean’s Excuse (which vary across residential colleges). However, Yale instructors generally accommodate students with reasonable excuses with or without the Dean’s form.
- Late submissions and grades - There is no University-wide policy on late submissions. Some departments have strict policies, such as lowering the assignment’s grade by half a letter for every twenty-four hours an assignment is late. In practice, enforcing late-grade deductions is up to the instructor’s discretion. Instructors of upper level seminars in the humanities and social sciences are often very flexible about deadlines. In these spheres, Yale culture tends to prioritize “better work” over rushed submissions. In addition, upper level seminars and lecture sections often practice a “midnight” deadline, implying any time before the next morning (e.g. papers submitted at 4:30 am are hardly ever penalized). Given Yale College’s lax cultural norms regarding deadlines, instructors who desire to implement very strict deadlines and penalties can make this explicitly clear in the syllabus.
Clarity and fairness are the most important aspects of any course’s grading policy from both a pedagogical perspective and Yale culture. Instructors can consider effective syllabus design and assessment strategies in order to provide clear standards to students.
Non-Letter Grades / Special Marks
Sometimes special marks must be reported to the Registrar in place of the usual letter grades. The Registrar provides additional information about these marks along with the end-of-the-term packet:
- Credit/D/Fail - This is essentially the “Pass/Fail” option for undergrads who want to try a course without the pressure of letter grades impacting their GPA, and is a common practice. However, an instructor has no way of knowing if a student is taking the course as Cr/D/Fail. In addition, the instructor is not permitted to ask a student whether they are taking the course Cr/D/Fail, although students may choose to volunteer that information. At the end of term, these students are assigned a letter grade just like any other student, and the registrar changes the letter grade to “Cr” (for grades A through C-) or keeps the given letter grade (for grades D through F).
- Note: Students have 8 weeks from the start of the semester to switch from Cr/D/Fail to a letter grade. Therefore, it is important to give students feedback during the first 4-8 weeks so they can reasonably assess their chances of success in the course. Many students will start out with Cr/D/Fail, because the reverse - switching from letter grade to Cr/D/Fail - is not possible once shopping period is over.
- Withdrew (W) - Students who decide that their performance in a given course is not desirable may choose to drop the course. If dropped before midterm, that course will not appear on the transcript. After this date, the transcript will record a “W” (for “withdrew”) for that course, which most students do not desire. Offering high-quality feedback (either through grades or an in-person consultation) to students well before the midterm allows them to decide whether or not to drop a class without the stress of incurring a “W.”
- Other special marks are less common and include SAT (satisfactory), TI (authorized temporary incomplete), and ABX (authorized absence from final examination). These are issued by deans of residential colleges.
Ben-David Y. (November 2013). Grading committee drops numerical system. Yale Daily News.
Menton JD. (April 2013). Defining the Yale College ‘A’. Yale Daily News.
Menton JD. (April 2013). Students Decry Grading Changes. Yale Daily News.
Revised Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Grading. (April 2013).