Kellianne King: Getting the backstory to your grade

Last year, I received a congratulatory email from a professor in a women’s studies course. “You’re top of the class!” it read. I felt a tinge of pride after I received an “A” – after all, over 80 students were enrolled in the course.

But the email remained a secret between my professor and I. The fact that I received the highest grade overall wasn’t something I could share with employers.

But if GW adopted a new form of transcript, which is gaining momentum across higher education, it could tell a more complete story about a student’s academic history.

In “contextualized transcripts,” or transcripts that detail class rank, a student’s performance isn’t whittled down to a mere letter grade. Instead, there’s a bit of a backstory to the grade – showing just how well that student did, or didn’t do, against the class median.

Indiana University at Bloomington and Dartmouth College have been at the forefront of the trend, providing students with a contextualized grade report after each semester. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will take a similar approach next fall. By detailing class rank, it can show how challenging a class was, or perhaps even reveal an unfair professor.

These new transcripts could also help to fight a growing epidemic in higher education: grade inflation. Average college GPAs have skyrocketed from 2.3 to 3.2 over the last few decades, according to Gallup.

An “A” looks good, but it holds less significance when everyone else in the class gets “A’s.”

These transcripts, then, might encourage professors to grade more accurately and astutely – yet another selling point for adding them.

GW is trying to raise its academic standards, including by instituting higher tenure standards for professors and being more selective with undergraduate applicants to reach the level of colleges like Dartmouth. GW’s method of grading needs to follow suit.

There may be some costs for the University to foot. UNC had to delay its rollout of the transcripts because it needed to put in place a new payroll and finance system.

But in the long run, these transcripts would benefit students as they enter the job market. A contextualized transcript would provide employers with a more sophisticated and comprehensive account of a student’s academic performance.

An employer, for example, could take into account that most students seemed to do poorly, and that even if a student received a low grade, that grade may still be among the highest in the class. A “C” that stands out amongst a whole set of “D’s” is likely to be of significant interest to an employer.

In an age where there are more college graduates than college-level jobs, any additional information we can add to our transcripts and show employers would be a welcome advantage.

The writer is a senior majoring in history.

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