Archive for the ‘Grades’ Category

Service of Everybody Gets a Trophy: College & University Academic Honors Galore

Monday, July 16th, 2018


Not short of recognition in my professional life, in college I was a dorm officer and on the college student council but I wasn’t much when it came to academic honors. [I made Dean’s List one semester, a shock to me most of all.] I’m impressed with my Phi Beta Kappa friends and with anyone who graduated with academic honors.


I was not happy to read Melissa Korn’s Wall Street Journal article, “You Graduated Cum Laude? So Did Everyone Else.”

Korn wrote: “Nearly half of students who graduated from Lehigh University, Princeton University and the University of Southern California this year did so with cum laude, magna cum laude or summa cum laude honors, or their equivalents. At Harvard and Johns Hopkins, more got the designations than didn’t.” Over 50 percent of Middlebury’s graduates and at Wellesley, 41 percent were so honored, up from 1/3 in the past 10 years.

Korn quoted former Duke professor Stuart Rojstaczer: “A 4.0 does signal something significant, that that student is good. A 3.7, however, doesn’t. That’s just a run-of-the-mill student at any of these schools.” Rojstaczer has focused on grade inflation for years according to Korn.

“Most elite schools cap the share of the graduating class that can receive academic honors. But the caps vary widely, from 25% at Columbia University to up to 60% at Harvard,” she wrote.

Excerpts from the article:

  • “Harvard’s number hit 91% in 2001, as highlighted at the time in a Boston Globe article about generous honors policies. Soon after, the school revised its selection process.
  • “Academic researchers say that uptick is a sign of grade inflation, not of smarter students.
  • “A handful of schools, including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, have tried to rein in the awards.
  • “Derrick Bolton, dean of admissions for Stanford University’s Knight-Hennessy Scholars graduate program, said application readers may glance at honors designations, but don’t dwell on them.” The program that accepted 50 and rejected 3,451 students, “looks more for candidates who challenge themselves academically, even if that means a B grade along the way.”

To be eligible for academic recognition the GPAs required by the colleges and universities in the article started at 3.5 and 3.6. At Tufts, which wouldn’t share with the Journal the percentage of students awarded academic honors, you needed a 3.2 in engineering.

Harvey Mudd College

If someone is paying yearly almost $70,000–$52,666 tuition and $17,051 room and board–at Harvey Mudd College, Claremont, Calif., they might expect an award, don’t you think? Harvey Mudd was the first in a list of the 50 most expensive colleges and universities in Business Insider published in February 2017.  The publication credited “Trends in College Pricing” as its source. Brown was the least expensive charging $64,566 for tuition and room and board. I went to Boston University, number 38, now at $65,110 per year, whereas Yale, number 47, where my husband graduated, cost $64,650.

Do colleges and universities think that they are doing students a favor by lowering the bar in handing out academic honors by the pound? Are they being smart? Is the likely chance a student or child will be so honored a selling point to attract candidates?


Service of Grades

Monday, February 28th, 2011


Unlike Tiger Mom Amy Chua, who accepts nothing less than A grades from her girls, I think that  Bs or Cs may be welcome, especially when they represent great improvement. That’s in school. 

But B and C can also make me shudder when given by the New York City Health Department and posted in food establishment windows. 

According to the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene website, “Inspectors check for compliance in food handling, food temperature, personal hygiene and vermin control. Each violation of a regulation earns a certain number of points.”

agrade1I read in another section of the site: “An inspection score of 0-13 is an A, 14-27 points a B, and 28 or more points a C. Grade cards must be posted where they can easily be seen by people passing by.”

I’m not thrilled to know that A places might have vermin or lukewarm tuna and egg salad or that dirty hands make my sandwich up to a count of 13, but I try not to think of that. [Would Ms. Chua, or anyone else, award an A to an 87?].

And what about those with “Grade Pending” posters in the window? Inspectors check out 24,000 restaurants, according to the website, but a limbo grade is grist for the imagination of the squeamish and must do damage. 

gradependingNevertheless, these small posters have begun to catch my attention and my trade–or not. In midtown near my office, there’s a dusty old deli on Third Avenue with a weather-beaten blue awning that I walked by for years not even noticing it was there. It boasts an A. One block away on Second Avenue is a deli that’s recently been remodeled and it has a B. While service isn’t part of the grade–although this was the place I walked out of and wrote about recently–there may be a relationship: Attitude. The counter crew that treated the only sandwich customer at 3 pm midweek as though she didn’t exist may apply similarly lackluster attention and elbow grease to their cleanup chores.

The school I attended from grades 1-12 gave word marks: Very Good, Good, Fair, and so forth. Do you want to eat food from a place with only a Good or Fair grade in cleanliness? Do you think that this initiative might increase the temptation to bribe inspectors? Will it improve the hygiene of New York restaurants and delis?


Service of Discipline

Monday, January 17th, 2011


I mentor an amazing graduate student, Ni Yan. She’s enrolled at Baruch College in its MA corporate communication program, is trilingual–Japanese, Chinese and English–and received an A and two A- in her first term. She’s from China. Her spoken English is good, but not as good as many in the class. She impresses me in many ways: her courage to come, alone, to an unfamiliar country and compete at the graduate level just beings to tell the story.

practicemakesperfect1I asked her about Amy Chua’s article in The Wall Street Journal, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.” She didn’t read the whole thing, but got the gist from what I told her and part of the subhead, “Can a regimen of no playdates, no TV, no computer games and hours of music practice create happy kids?”

In two seconds, she noticed the sidebar on the jump page from a second article, “In China, Not All Practice Tough Love,” where reading, math, and science scores listed Shanghai, China, first in all categories rated by Program for International Student Assessment Tests conducted in 65 “economies” and given to 15 year olds in 2009. Ni is from Shanghai. The US scored 17th, 31st and 23rd, respectively.

Nicholas D. Kristof wrote an opinion piece about the test scores and education in China in Sunday’s New York Times, “China’s Winning Schools?” Here I learned that school starts at the age of two but Kristof doesn’t think much of college education there.

Ni asked me my opinion of such discipline and upbringing. I can’t argue with the results: Hers and those reported by Ms. Chau about her daughters, of Yo Yo Ma the cellist, of the Chinese girl in my prep school class–no. 1 in stiff competition–who participated in none of the extracurricular activities or cultural offerings in the city and became a brilliant physician.

motherbadgeringI can wonder but will never know whether I might have become an A student with hours and hours and hours of practice, review, tutoring and badgering by my mother as described by Ms. Chau. I said to Nikki, “Ms. Chau wrote about Chinese mothers’ hysterics and screaming that happens if a child brings home less than A grades from school. Such a performance would have frozen–as in paralyzed–someone like me.” I added, “I couldn’t function.” Nikki replied, “You’d be used to it if you’d heard it since you were one.”

I was a happy kid, but would have loved being an A student. Would I have been even happier? A more driven and successful adult? Is a child’s “job” to learn and excel in school or to be happy or well-rounded or what?  Has today’s economy [the available jobs] changed your opinion?


Service of Grades

Monday, August 16th, 2010


Grades will always touch a nerve which is why I was fascinated with a story, “Little as They Try, Students Can’t Get a D Here,” in The New York Times earlier this month.

dgrade2Winnie Hu wrote in her second paragraph: “The way the Mount Olive school district sees it, its students should not be getting by with D’s on their report cards, either. This fall, there will no longer be any D’s, only A’s, B’s, C’s and F’s.”

The “either” referred to Hu’s lead: “Who wants to pay for ‘D’-quality plumbing? Fly the skies with a ‘D’-rated pilot? Settle for a ‘D’ restaurant?

We need a way to distinguish and reward work. But so much about grades in certain subjects is subjective. Are grades on an English essay or history thesis much different than book or movie reviews by credentialed reviewers or your friends? How many books or movies have you adored that respected pals and reviewers have felt lukewarm about or vice versa?

scholarship1I’m on a committee that gives $100,000+ in student scholarships. Two members grade each entry, which consists of an essay, resume, grade transcript and recommendations. You’d be amazed how far apart we come in on some even though we all work in different parts of the same industry.

Should high schools follow the pass/fail model that some colleges use?

Or instead of spending time worrying about the letter D, how about instituting a tutoring program to help move the Ds to Cs and Bs?

As for Hu’s reference to a D restaurant, we enjoyed the best service ever in an always-jammed restaurant with the most horrific food and the converse happened a month later-deliciously prepared food served with lackadaisical aplomb described as “family style.” What grades would you give each?  

I wouldn’t go near an airline with D-rated pilots-I’m a chicken-but we don’t grade pilots, I don’t think. There are on-line businesses that rate services like plumbers but how do you know that cousins, uncles and aunts haven’t sent in the reviews leading to top ratings?

What do you think about the elimination of the D grade? In the spirit of “every child wins a trophy just by breathing and showing up to a sports event,” why not add a grade-M–and give M a new, positive persona? Maybe the letter M could be a new client–think of the social media opportunities and the marketing/PR campaign!


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