The debate between target, bell curve and mastery grading continues at Chapman between faculty, students and administration.
by Caroline Roffe
Students earn grades with hard work, late nights and endless cups of coffee. Alexandra Levaggi, a sophomore business administration major is no exception. However, Levaggi feels as though she is at an automatic disadvantage with her resulting GPA because her business classes are known for resulting lower scores than other schools at Chapman.
Many students and faculty express frustration at the inconsistencies in Chapman’s grading policies and differences in average GPAs between the science and math-oriented schools like Argyros School of Business and Economics (ASBE) and Schmid College of Science and Technology, and the art/humanities schools like the College of Performing Arts and Dodge College of Film and Media Arts.
“The business school curve is unfair because I am here struggling and working extremely hard to get passing grades of Cs or higher while other students with different majors are coasting by and getting As from less demanding classes,” said Levaggi.
Specifically, the conflict surrounds the difference in grading between the ASBE and other schools at Chapman. ASBE’s grading policy is a target GPA that works similarly to a curve in that the class average should be hitting the target mark. The average GPA required for a class can be as low as 2.7 for lower division classes, according to Vice Chancellor for Academic Administration Glenn Pfeiffer.
Target GPAs in ASBE are meant to fight grade inflation by keeping the averages low, said Pfeiffer. In ASBE, the average overall GPA, including classes taken outside of ASBE, is approximately 3.00, which is the lowest school GPA in the university. The overall average undergraduate GPA for the past five years is 3.29.
In April 2013, the GPA requirement for pre-business students to be accepted into ASBE after their first five core classes had to be lowered from 3.25 to 2.5 because too many students were struggling to keep above a B average.
Some business students find the difference in averages to be a disadvantage compared to other students at Chapman. They cite examples like the Honors Program, scholarships and Greek requirements that all factor in GPA.
Pfeiffer does not believe that these disadvantages have any real traction.
“In a college where the average GPA is 3.5, while the ASBE average is 3.0, a larger percentage of students would likely be eligible for honors. So, in this sense, Argyros and Schmid students are at a disadvantage,” said Pfeiffer. “However, I have never received any complaints from students about being blocked from participating in the Honors Program because of Argyros or Schmid grading practices, but I suppose that it has happened.”
Joel Colbert, director of Chapman's Institute for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, supports a different style of evaluation than the norm referencing curve style of ASBE. He endorses criterion/mastery learning in which the student is graded according to a clear set of upfront objectives receive a grade based on their ability to meet the objectives.
“When I taught at my previous institution, I constructed my classes for mastery learning in which I expected every one of my students to get an A,” said Colbert. “If I saw one of my students struggling, I would go back and do some reteaching until all or almost all met my criteria.”
Michael Kowalski, associate dean of academic affairs, holds the opposite perspective that if all students are able to achieve A grades, the course cannot be rigorous enough.
He cited the Chapman University catalog to support his argument. The catalog states that a “grade of ‘A’ will be awarded to students whose work is outstanding.”
“Based on those definitions, if an A reflects outstanding work and a professor gives out 90% of As, then this professor is basically saying that 90% of his students have done outstanding work in his class,” said Kowalski. “It is of course possible, but I find it a little hard to believe.”
Melissa Schrand, ASBE SGA representative, told Prowl Magazine that she is conducting research on the topic of inconsistencies in grading between ASBE and the rest of campus, but was not comfortable sharing her findings yet.
Further debate about grading at Chapman can be found at town halls like the Future Town Hall held by Kowalski last April and in faculty forums held by other deans and Chancellor Daniele Struppa throughout the year.