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05/03/94

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CUE urges study of grade inflation, recommends change in language requirement

STANFORD -- The Commission on Undergraduate Education, in a meeting Monday, May 2, called on the president or provost to appoint a new committee to study methods of curbing grade inflation.

The commission also recommended that three years of foreign language study in high school no longer meet the university's language requirement, said history Professor James Sheehan, commission chair.

The commission agreed that the "grading system is in danger of collapsing" due to grade inflation, Sheehan said.

While there are many problems with an analogy between the inflation of grades and inflation in the economy, Sheehan said, there is at least one pertinent similarity.

Economic inflation is difficult to control, he said, because some people benefit from it and others think they do. This makes it hard for a government to take the steps necessary to halt the inflationary spiral, Sheehan said, even though rampant inflation will eventually ruin the economy.

Likewise, he said, even though some students may see themselves as benefitting from grade inflation, "it's very bad to have a grading system that's more or less meaningless." Students who need evaluations will be forced to obtain them elsewhere, perhaps using test scores or letters of recommendation, he said.

A proposal currently before the Faculty Senate calls for reinstituting a failing grade, shifting the add-course and drop- course deadlines and limiting students' ability to retake classes for higher grades. The proposal also would provide a transcript that is more a "historical record" of courses taken than the current "record of achievement."

This proposal is a good one, Sheehan said, "and may contribute to improving the situation, but it's not clear that it will."

Any committee appointed to study the grading situation, Sheehan said, should include more student members than the commission, which has one undergraduate and one graduate student.

On the foreign language requirement, the commission proposed that students would have to pass either a proficiency exam or the third quarter of a first-year class at Stanford, Sheehan said. The proposal eliminates the option of fulfilling the requirement simply with three years of high school language study.

Stanford's language requirement is "at the very bottom" compared to other leading universities, Sheehan said. "We want to bring ourselves into sync with other schools.

"What we're recommending is very modest compared to what some would like," Sheehan said.

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