College developing plans to communicate shadow grading policy: First-year writing courses will be shadow graded year round


Staff Writer

The College is working to communicate the shadow grading policy to current students, faculty, the Class of 2018 and external audiences such as graduate schools, internship programs and employers. The shadow grading implementation group will reach out to current students and faculty to discuss possible effects the policy may have on class and course selection.

Additionally, the group is working with the CWS to modify the current Provost letter that accompanies all transcripts to explain the College’s grading policy to employers and professional and graduate schools. They are also discussing incorporation of the policy into the orientation program this fall.

Last December, Ann Velenchik, the director of the writing program, proposed to the Academic Council that shadow grading should be applied to first-year students enrolled in first year writing courses in both the fall and spring semester. The Council approved her proposal and amended the policy.

Professor Velenchik believes that by having all first-year writing courses shadow graded, students will not base their decision on which writing course to take on whether or not the course is in the first, shadow-graded semester.

“I was concerned that if all the fall courses were shadow graded and the spring ones were not, that difference would factor into their choices. I didn’t think that was a good idea, especially since I can’t predict what changes that would generate or how students would respond,” Velenchik said.

The shadow grading policy was originally proposed by professor of sociology Lee Cuba. Beginning this fall, the College will not publish the first semester letter grades of first-year students on official transcripts. Instead, transcripts will denote a “P” when the student passed and “NP” when the student failed the course.

Last year, Academic Council, the College’s governing body comprised of faculty, staff and administrators, voted to pass the shadow grading policy. Professors will still share final grades with students through a grade report.

Shadow grading is an experimental policy, which the Academic Council will decide to renew or terminate in four years. The policy aims to ease academic and social stress as first years transition from high school to college. With less focus on grades, students might take more academic risks by exploring unfamiliar subjects. Since students attended high schools that varied in rigor, first years will have a chance to better acclimate to Wellesley’s academic intensity and social environment.

The implementation group will make the policy more visible on the College website with the help of the Public Affairs Office. The office recently posted the policy on the Registrar’s site, and will also post FAQs online.

The Office of Admission has communicated the policy to prospective students and families during on-campus information sessions, campus tours and high school visits. Once decisions are released, information will also be included on the admitted student website.

John O’Keefe, a dean of the class of 2014, Katie Eyring ’14 and Dhivya Perumal ’14, all of whom are members of the implementation group, will attend Wellesley College Government President’s Council and other student-run council meetings to ensure that current students can correctly explain the policy to new students.

The implementation group will also host faculty lunch meetings to facilitate conversations about the effects of shadow grading in the classroom and enrollment in introductory courses. Professor Cuba acknowledges that the classroom dynamic may change if not all of the students in a class are first years. First years will take classes with upperclasswomen for a pass or fail grade while other students take the course for a grade.

Additionally, the implementation group will create new ways to assess the policy’s effectiveness. The group will compare responses from last year’s first-year and sophomore class surveys with responses from the entering classes.

The implementation group will also determine if the policy affects students’ course selection. For example, first years who enjoy the sciences but are apprehensive about jumping into college-level science courses may be more inclined to do so if they are less concerned about the class affecting their grade point averages.

Cuba believes that by using these measures, the College can determine if the policy meets its goals.

Lori Tenser, dean of the first-year class, will integrate the policy into existing student and parent programs during orientation next fall. Student leaders will also review the policy during their training, which takes place a week before orientation.

According to Jennifer Desjarlais, dean of admission and financial aid, prospective students and their families are familiar with similar policies at Swarthmore College and MIT and are responding to the policy positively.

“Most students are eager to learn how it came about and are excited by the prospect of the policy within the context of an emphasis on introducing students to the academic and intellectual community at Wellesley in a meaningful way,” Desjarlais said.

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