For many instructors, grading can be a sensitive issue.

Tufts students are very capable. Our Dean of Students once said, famously, that if students at Tufts aren’t getting at least a “B-” in all their courses, then we made a mistake in accepting them. Gone are the days of the “bell curve” where “C” was the median and all grades fell in around it. Thus the range — the “new Bell curve” — tends to peak at “B+”. And the distribution tends to go from “B-” to “A”.

This is not to say that some students earn lower grades. They do. But by and large, what the Dean meant is that the university is so competitive theses days that the students we accept should, in fact, be doing “B” work and above.

It’s quite likely, therefore, that most of your students will do very good work. This is especially true because students taking ExCollege courses tend to be highly motivated. However, it would be a disservice to the best students in your class — those doing truly outstanding work — not to distinguish them from those who did good or very good work. At the end of the semester, it is not unheard of for a well-meaning instructor to present us with a list of grades in which he or she has given everyone an “A”. This is an untenable position, and we will ask the instructor to re-evaluate his or her decisions.

To avoid such problems, we strongly suggest that you include in your syllabus at least three evaluative assignments, one of which should happen in the first few weeks of the semester. Furthermore, to ensure an appropriate distribution, letter grades with a reasonable spread should be given throughout the semester.

Finally, it’s essential that you tell the class what you expect, that you establish a policy for missed or late assignments, that you be consistent in your grading, and that you maintain standards which can be defended if challenged. In this regard, a tight and/or complex numerical system can lack flexibility. Precisely for this reason, the university does not use an equivalency table whereby a certain set of numbers equals a certain letter grade.  It is a good idea to mention this if you think it could be a problem.

Last but not least, here is the official grading guideline, as publishes every year in the Tufts Bulletin.

A  Superior work
B  Meritorious work
C  Work without marked merit or defect
D  Unsatisfactory work
F  Failure

The addition of a plus (+) or minus (-) to the letter grade can further distinguish among students’ work.


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