Ryan Marchildon, Letter to Queen’s Senate on the GPA System (28 February 2012)

Ryan Marchildon addressed Queen’s Senate on 28 February 2012 concerning  problems posed to students by the new GPA system.  Since his speaking time was limited, he forwarded the following supplement, outlining possible solutions, to the Senators by email. See also QueensYOU, “Our Platform.”

Dear friends,

I will be taking a strong position on why we need to advocate an improvement to the present system of academic assessment, in the best interests of the entire student population. However, I want to make it clear that my tone is a constructive one. I would like the focus, rightly so, to be on the students, and what we can do to maximize the success of the Queen’s degree both here and abroad. Accomplishing this will require open-minded, factual discussion as well as an active push to have possible remedies investigated.

There is more than one way to approach a solution. Many of the detrimental effects we are asserting can be readily addressed by ensuring, in one way or another, that precise percentage grades and course averages make their way onto the transcript, as is currently the practice at the University of Toronto.

Most departments have been keeping a record of percentage grades internally, and in fact, many of them have been submitting these directly to the central software system. We do not need to ‘get rid of’ the GPA. All that is necessary is to have these percentages (and the course averages) officiated on the transcript in a precise form that is true to the students’ actual performance – there is absolutely no need to perform internal number-crunching with our central software! [I refer you back to Dr. McDonald’s letter for why it is important that academic performance is recorded as precisely and transparently as possible].

To outline some possible approaches that warrant investigation, allow me to present three different possibilities. I will not claim that any of these represent “the solution” – I think that is yet to be decided. And these certainly only represent a small fraction of what might be possible. However, they may be useful as a ‘starting point’ for our discussions:

1.  Each school or department might have a ‘supplementary attachment’ to the transcript that can be forwarded to the Registrar for officiating. Upon officiating, these pages would be considered an indistinguishable part of the transcript (i.e. collectively the ‘original’ documents and the supplements would be considered ‘the transcript’).This supplement would include any additional information the department or school believes should be added, including percentages and course averages. This allows an extent of customizability not offered by our central system.

2. There may be an easier way to take raw percentage grades and class averages provided to the central system, and bypass the central system so that these are added to the transcript alongside the software-calculated GPA and course units. The right way to explore this might be to talk to institutions who have dealt with similar software in the past. It would also be good to listen to the talent we have here at Queen’s – i.e. the School of Computing, which would likely be able to provide sound advice.

3. The GPA scale itself could be altered to provide a precise, one-to-one mapping of GPA to percentage grade. What I mean by this is that we remove the ambiguity caused by assigning several percentage grades to one GPA number (i.e. as we have now where an 80,81,82,83,84 are all considered a 3.7 GPA), and instead switch to a system where each percentage corresponds to a distinct GPA. For example, consider the hypothetical “5.0”, “linear” GPA scale defined below:

(95% + = 5.0)
(94% = 4.9)
(93% = 4.8)
(92% = 4.7)
. . . (skipped for brevity)
(86% = 4.1)
*(85% = 4.0)
(84% = 3.9)
. . .  (skipped for brevity)
(77% = 3.2)

You will find that this hits many of the same ‘marks’ that were intended by the present GPA, but does so in a far more transparent and far less ambiguous manner. Note that 85% sits exactly at a 4.0, and that we still distinguish students with high achievement (i.e. 90% +).

So here are a few places to start our discussion. It is my sincere hope that we take a serious look at every option available and understand exactly how it could be implemented. In this manner I am confident we can find a favourable approach that is beneficial to all parties involved.

And please remember: in the final analysis, if students suffer, then Queen’s suffers. The success of our graduates as well as their fond memories of the Queen’s experience is of vast importance to our institution – not only for our reputation, but also for our finances.

Sincere regards,

Ryan Marchildon
B.Sc. Engineering Physics, 2012 (Candidate)
Technical Director, Queen’s Fuel Cell Team
Chancellor’s Scholar, 2008-present

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