A recent voluntary response poll conducted by the Pro Se of UConn Law faculty’s view of the B-Median grading policy showed the majority of professors responding believe the current system should be reformed, but there was wide disparity on what they believe to be a viable alternative. Of the over sixty professors to have received the poll, twenty-two responded.
With twenty-one professors responding to question one, 62 percent answered that they believe that the B-Median grading system should be changed.
When asked about the most pressing negative impacts of the current grading system, 81 percent of respondents felt that it adversely affects students’ class choices. Additionally, one professor felt that the current system negatively impacts the competitiveness of UConn Law graduates, one believed it yields inaccurate grading, one believed it yields artificially low grades, and one member of the faculty indicated that all of these were equally problematic.
When asked whether they agree with the current policy that the B-median should be limited to classes of 19 or more students, 76 percent of respondents felt it should not. But when asked what they thought the change should be, responses ranged from applying the B-median to all classes, to implementing a more flexible standard depending on the class, to abolishing it completely.
One professor wrote “[t]he B median, or any other grading curve or restrictions, only makes sense if the class is large enough so that the qualitative distribution of performance averages out. I’m not sure if 19 is the right number, but it’s likely somewhere in that range.” This professor added, “[c]linics and seminars that involve multiple drafts of papers should also be exempt, because in those settings students are expected to keep at the work until their product is very good or better.”
Additionally, 57 percent of respondents answered that they have felt negatively constrained by the B Median system in grading students.
The survey included an optional response field allowing respondents to propose alternate systems or make additional comments on the system as they perceive it. Perhaps the most colorful response was that the B-Median system “is an absurd requirement.”
Two separate responders quoted Winston Churchill in likening the current grading system to democracy, saying that it is “the worst possible system except for all of the other ones.”
Indeed, alternative proposals varied widely. Of the twelve faculty members that indicated they would like to see the grading system changed, seven different proposals were made for replacements for the current system. Only two of those proposals were echoed by another faculty member, with a mandatory curve and a B-median for first year courses each receiving the support of two professors. The remainder of responses varied from imposing no limit at all on professors to significantly stricter systems.
When asked to comment on the poll results, Academic Dean Leslie Levin corroborated the a lack of faculty agreement is a major factor in the current sysmem.
“The Educational Policy Committee has seriously studied the B-median and associated issues on several occasions,” Levin said, “the question with which we continually grapple is ‘what grading system would be better?’”
Professor Loftus Becker also echoed Levin’s statement, saying “there are many considerations that come into play . . . and all of them involve trade-offs.”
That the lack of agreement on a viable alternative is what he prevented grading reform in the past decade despite significant investments of faculty and administrative time considering potential changes to be implemented in the current grading system.
As Becker observed, “[w]hat change needs is someone willing to do the hard job of lobbying people to get a consensus . . . . Unfortunately, most of us [faculty] aren’t good at politics, and the few who are often have other things they believe are more important.”