Class rank and GPA concerns

Part 2: The second in a series about grades at Colby

In last week’s article, I discussed the quantification of educational success in the form of grades and test scores at my high school and now at Colby. As a student, I have found it hard to reconcile this system with my own motivation and personal opinion about my achievement. It’s almost impossible to find a balance between striving for good grades and reminding myself that I’m here to be challenged and can’t always be successful in every endeavor, if success is defined as receiving an A.

This week, I talked to students about what they thought of grades at Colby. After talking with students from a variety of majors and class years, a few themes emerged.

According to a first-year who is considering an English major, grades here are “fair for the most part. As in, an A isn’t unattainable as long as you’re doing your work and putting forth your best effort.” Most others, however, had a different response. 

Katie Metayer ’17, a Biochemistry major, told me that she believes the emphasis put on grades at Colby and in the outside world is over-the-top. “There’s not always a correlation between actively learning, engaging, making the most of a class or a particular experience and the final grade,” she said. Metayer went on to discuss learning and personal success, citing how so much of learning happens outside of the classroom. This type of learning, she said, “is not easily reflected by a grade or your GPA but is often much more meaningful and impactful.”

Two sophomore Biochemistry majors, Amy Bruce ’19 and Amy LoTemplio ’19, gave their Chemistry exam average as an example of grade deflation at Colby. The class average on this exam was a 79. LoTemplio, who is on the pre-med track, said she should probably worry more about grades than she does.

Many students I talked to seemed to echo a similar idea: grades here are very dependent on the major. A senior Economics major brought up Computer Science as an “exceptionally hard major to have a good GPA in, even if you work hours at a time.” This student thought that Economics was “pretty average as far as grading goes,” but acknowledged that many Econ majors would probably say it’s much harder than average. This brings up an interesting point: how we gauge difficulty and fairness of grading in a particular subject area is dependent on our personal experience and skill level.

I found that students I talked to had some similar concerns about grades at Colby, like class rank and the disparity of grade standards between departments and sometimes even among different professors in the same department. In one case, professors teaching the exact same class had different grading standards. A first-year, who asked to remain anonymous, had a thoughtful reflection on the Studio Art course they are currently taking. “For most people at Colby, it’s not grades that define you and people don’t care as much about other people’s grades as they did at my high school,” the student said. “But it’s difficult when you have different professors with different grading standards. Like for my Studio Art class, my professor said that in his class it’s very difficult to earn an A, while the other section of Studio Art taught by a different professor were told that they shouldn’t worry about their grade because pretty much everyone gets an A.”

Colby’s class rank was a concern for many, including Michaela Morris ’19, an American studies major. “I think having class rank encourages a competitive environment where pursuit of perfect grades—instead of actual learning —is encouraged,” Morris said.

Brit Biddle ’19, Computer Science and Studio Art double major, has an interesting perspective on grading at Colby, having what some have cited as one of the hardest majors and one of the stereotypically easier majors. Biddle agrees that some majors are clearly more difficult than others, which leads to “unequal class rank.”  She brought up being lectured for “only caring about grades” after approaching a professor asking for ways to improve in art. A lot of Colby students seem to be frustrated by this assumption, and rightly so. We aren’t only concerned about our grades. We are here to learn and improve and challenge ourselves. But how are we expected not to worry about grades when we have things like academic warnings and class rank?

Having heard from a variety of hardworking students who clearly value their education and appreciate what Colby has to offer them, I’m tempted to conclude that we should do away with grades and class rank across the board.

NEXT WEEK: I’ll investigate how this problem applies to Colby professors. Email lnfann20@colby.edu to tell me what you think.