Standardization needed to prevent major grade disparities

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Photo Credit: Alexandra Vanderhider | Daily Texan Staff

Work ethic and intelligence should determine a student’s GPA. However, professors often have the biggest effect on student grades.

UT Catalyst is a website created by the Natural Sciences Council that allows students to see grade distributions for thousands of classes semesterly or aggregately, dating back to 2013. Students can pick a class, professor and semester, and see how many students received an A, B, C and so on. The data is obtained through the Office of the Vice President.

Jonathan Wong, a sophomore business honors student, said he knows students who choose their classes largely based on the grade distributions shown on UT Catalyst.

“You can use UT Catalyst to see (which) professors give out the best grades and then choose solely those professors,” Wong said.

UT Catalyst exposes enormous differences in grading between professors teaching the same class. 

For example, according to UT Catalyst, in a chemistry class in the Spring of 2018, 75 percent of students received an A or A- in the course taught by a specific professor. For a different professor teaching this same class, just 19 percent of students received an A or A-, with the most common grade being a C-.

A class in the history department also illustrated this disparity. According to UT Catalyst, in spring 2018, approximately 62 percent of students received an A from one professor, with another 15 percent receiving an A-. In the same class taught by a different professor that semester, just 21 percent of students received an A, with the most common grade being a B+.

It isn’t fair for a student’s grade to be so heavily dependent on who they happen to choose as a professor. In many cases, students have to work harder to achieve a B while students taking the same exact class can work less and receive an A. The University must take action to establish a level of consistency across grade distributions for courses taught by several professors.

Susan Somers, an academic advisor in the College of Liberal Arts, said students can gain valuable experiences from tougher professors, which is part of the reason professors have freedom to teach their class and evaluate students in a way they believe is most effective. 

“Maybe the professor that is more challenging, perhaps, is going to be somebody that creates a better transformational educational life experience for (a student),” Somers said. “Part of the academic freedom in the eyes of most people in the humanities is that (professors) would be able to teach their own course in the way that they see fit.”

According to the University’s General Information Catalog, professors are “free to develop their own methods of evaluating the performance of students in their classes.” Methods used can be reviewed by the appropriate administration.

Grades are not the most important part of an academic experience, and one of the things that makes UT so special is the diversity of professors and teaching styles.

However, GPA is still important for students who depend on scholarships that have minimum GPA requirements. Additionally, some employers and graduate schools use GPA to determine who to hire or accept. Because of this, the University must work to ensure greater consistency across grade distributions.

Professors need some freedom to run their class however they see fit, and grade distributions shouldn’t necessarily be identical. However, major disparities in grading are problematic. While diverse learning experiences are important, some level of standardization to ensure fairness is important too. 

Corwin is a journalism sophomore from Long Island, NY.