Following complaints from students about how grades from repeated classes are handled, members of the Student Association Office of Academic Affairs are looking to change and standardize the system.
“A student who had been on probation and had reenrolled contacted the office to see how he could raise his grades. He wanted to know what classes he could retake to get credits and raise his GPA,” said Bryan Delacruz, assistant to the vice president of academic affairs and a senior majoring in political science. “So we looked into Binghamton’s grading policy and we found a lot of differences in these policies for different schools.”
As members of the office investigated further, they found that Harpur College, the School of Management, the Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science, the College of Community and Public Affairs and the Decker School of Nursing each had their own standards for incorporating retaken classes into grade point average.
The Decker School of Nursing and SOM average the old and new grades together, but Watson, Harpur and CCPA only average courses where the student had originally failed. If the student does poorly in the class but doesn’t fail, and retakes it in order to be eligible for more advanced classes, only the initial low grade is incorporated into the GPA.
“The way it is now certain schools give students incentive to fail rather than pass with a low grade,” said Delacruz. “What we want is for all the schools to have the same grading policy when it comes to retaking classes. We feel it is only fair to have the same policy across all the schools. A large amount of students may take classes across different schools, and this makes it a lot easier.”
Maria Alonso, a Spanish professor, agreed with Delacruz’s assessment that a single system across all schools would be beneficial.
“I think that each case is different. But there is a need to standardize in way that it is just for every body,” Alonso wrote in an email. “Therefore, I think it would be good if a student not being able to pass the class with a decent grade, borderline or falling, is able to retake the class and his grade could be averaged … Always it is expected the student to do his or her best and to be academically committed.”
However, some students don’t want a single policy across all schools.
“Besides the fact that I think that changing the grading system would be unfair to all current students, it’s important to keep in mind that the grading systems and relative workloads are not the same across all schools,” said Itai Ferber, a sophomore majoring in computer science. “As someone in Watson, I don’t think changing the balance between our school and, say, Harpur would be fair at all.”
When members of the office compared Binghamton University to other schools, they found schools like Harpur are stricter than other colleges in terms of how grades from repeated courses are treated, either averaged in or even used to replace failing ones.
“We consider Binghamton the Ivy League of public schools so we took a look at Ivy schools, in particular Cornell. We found that schools like Cornell and Yale average the grades of retaken classes,” Delacruz said. “We also looked at all the SUNYs, and we found Binghamton to be the strictest.”
This year Derrick Conyers, SA vice president of academic affairs, decided to focus on standardizing the policy of retaking courses across all the schools.
“As a baseline we want to average all the courses. Preferably a model of replacement with the higher grade like Geneseo or Buffalo, but that’s more of a stretch. Averaging the grades seems a reasonable policy that will keep students accountable,” Delacruz said.
While Delacruz said that he, Conyers and other members of the office had met with representatives from nearly every school and received positive responses, deans from other schools did not commit to the proposals. Changes within the School of Management may even have the opposite of the desired effect.
“The ideas that Derrick explored with me were the policy of averaging or accepting the better grade when a student repeats a course. SOM currently is the only school that allows averaging. To be consistent with other Schools at Binghamton we are proposing a change that will eliminate averaging since it contributes to grade inflation,” Dhillon wrote in an email.
Anne McCall, dean of Harpur, also said there were reservations from Harpur administration.
“When colleges and universities make policies in this area, they should be balancing competing values, among them standards for academic performance, accountability of students for their work, fairness relative to other students who can’t afford numerous repeats of courses, and a desire to encourage students to pursue efforts in a given area,” she wrote in an email. “I look forward to a discussion that helps us verify the fit between our identity here and our policy.”
Many students who had retaken courses, though, supported the changes.
“It’s only fair to people who didn’t fail and wanted to retake a class,” said Shriman Balasubramanian, a sophomore double-majoring in biology and management.
Christopher Tufo, a sophomore double-majoring in art history and dance, said he thought the current policy was the only way to hold students accountable for their actions.
“As someone from Harpur College, where GPA is very important in applying to grad school, I think that there should be ramifications for doing poorly. You can standardize the system and average the grades, but I don’t think a good grade should replace a bad one,” Tufo said.