The first concerns the workload during midterms. Many professors assign a heavy workload during the week of midterms, in addition to lectures, precepts, labs and, of course, exams. In the ALTA survey, 90 percent of respondents indicated that homework assigned during midterms had an extremely or somewhat negative impact. Only 3 percent indicated that it had an extremely or somewhat positive impact. Midterms week is already demanding for students, who must balance rigorous schedules with the additional stress of multiple examinations. The reality is that students are unlikely to complete all of the work assigned during midterms, and if they do, their command of the material will be subpar.
While a prohibition on assignments during midterms would be extreme — after all, some classes do not administer midterm exams at all or administer exams at other times — the University should recommend that professors be more mindful of the work they assign during midterms. Obviously, each course operates differently, and workloads vary. Still, if each professor attempted to mitigate the stress of midterms by assigning a lighter load, the effect would be significant.
The second issue concerns the pass/D/fail grading option. Current policy states that once selected, the P/D/F option cannot be rescinded. The ALTA survey asked students if they would favor being able to rescind a P/D/F after viewing their final grades. 89 percent of respondents indicated that they strongly or somewhat supported this proposed change; only 7 percent indicated that they strongly or somewhat opposed it.
The ability to rescind the P/D/F option would have many benefits. First, it would incentivize students to put in effort; current policy diminishes the incentive to do work in a class that one is taking P/D/F. Consequently, students electing a P/D/F often gain less from the course and master less of the course material. Additionally, there is a detrimental effect on students as a whole, such as decreased and lower quality precept participation and poor lab performance that negatively affects lab partners who have not elected to take a course P/D/F.
While some argue that the ability to rescind a P/D/F would damage the ambiguity of a “P” on a transcript, this concern is minor considering the benefits to the individual, the other students in the class, preceptors and professors. It is unlikely that potential employers and graduate schools would judge a “P” differently because of a change in the policy.
The ALTA committee is currently completing a full report they will release later this month, which will include all of the committee’s suggestions on how to improve academic life. The Editorial Board is eager to see the committee’s suggestions for remedying work during midterms and addressing the weaknesses of the P/D/F policy and strongly urges the administration to consider relevant policy changes.