University clarifies grading curve policy

(Edmonton) The University of Alberta has amended language related to grading used in the official university calendar. The changes, which affect wording in the grading assessment practices, were necessary to dispel misconceptions that suggested use of the so-called grading curve was mandatory. No such mandatory requirement exists or existed. Beyond clarifying language, the university’s grading policies and procedures remain unchanged.

The policy simply states: “Grades in any course, examination or other academic assessment shall not be mandated on the basis of a curve or historic distribution of student grades. The distribution of grades shall not be predetermined by any system of quotas that requires a certain number or percentage of grades at a particular level. However, a faculty, department or unit may develop and provide guidelines to instructors setting out a reasonable distribution of grades in the faculty or department.”

At its May 28 meeting, the university’s General Faculties Council approved a motion that revises calendar language related to course assessment and grading regulations. Among the changes for clarification was a section that some students and instructors were reportedly interpreting as suggesting that a historical distribution of student grades was a requirement.

Bill Connor, vice-provost (academic programs and instruction) and co-presenter of the wording amendments, says that some students objected to what they perceived as the use of a curved grading system. The decision to reword the calendar was an effort to provide clarity on the assessment practices that instructors must follow.

“General Faculties Council, with these changes, is attempting to clear up the misunderstanding that the university had a bell curve policy. We’ve never had one,” Connor said. “We hope that any misperceptions will now be cleared up.”

Though the intent of the amendment is to provide greater clarity about grading procedures, it remains the case that the calendar stipulates that a faculty, department or unit may establish policies allowing for the reasonable distribution of grades. It is critical, and will be expected, that instructors clearly communicate to their students how marks will be translated into grades.

The amendment follows conversations, research and consultation, dating back to at least 2009, aimed at addressing student concerns. The approved changes, which formalize relevant policy and procedures, take effect for the fall 2012 term.

View the policy amendments