Similar to the student survey, faculty responded to a series of statements regarding their teaching and grading experiences on a Likert scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree. Our results reveal that while most faculty currently use a traditional grading model, they would get rid of numerical and/or letter grading if they could (Figure 8).
Faculty Desires to Get Rid of Traditional Grading if Possible
While some faculty maintain that they do not wish to get rid of traditional grading, mostly all faculty agree that grading is difficult for a variety of reasons. Figure 9 details faculty perceptions of grading as an emotional process.
Grading as an Emotional Process
Regardless of willingness to change their grading model, many faculty express interest in finding new ways of giving feedback to their students (Figure 10).
Faculty Reflections on Providing Feedback
Similar to the student survey, we asked faculty about their wellbeing in an effort to understand how it might be tied to teaching and grading habits. Results show that overall, Middlebury faculty have relatively high levels of self-reported occupational stress (Figure 11).
Faculty Reporting of Occupational Stress Levels
We also asked faculty to rank the most enjoyable parts of their work experience. Results show that faculty value connecting with students and moderating classes. Grading, on the other hand, ranks last on the list.
Average of Most Enjoyable Parts of the Teaching as Ranked by Respondents
- Connecting with and/or mentoring students
- Discussion based classes
- Learning/finding new material to teach
- Giving non-graded feedback to students
- Connecting with other faculty members
- Attending faculty meetings
The open ended section of the faculty survey sought to understand if faculty members are generally interested in changing their grading models and what may be some of the barriers to making change.
Q1: Have you ever considered changing your grading model? Why or why not?
A few professors that took the survey feel strongly about maintaining their current traditional grading model and are not interested in exploring alternatives:
“No -The whole point of grading is not for the student, not for the college, not for the professor – grading exists so that subsequent employers or academic programs can know something about the student’s mastery of the subject material in the course. Grading works for that.”
“No, students in STEM courses both expect and need letter grades.”
“no. (1) too much work, (2) letter grades required by college”
The majority of faculty members, however, have considered changing their grading model for a variety of reasons:
“Yes. Numerical/Letter grades are imprecise and unfair.”
“Yes. Many Middlebury students arrive underprepared causing huge disparities between students such that they can’t really be expected to produce the same quality of work, especially early in the career at middlebury.”
“Very much. The A / A- / B+ etc model (1) is messed up because the modal grade at Midd is A-, and (B) because it doesn’t predict very well success in research, work etc”
Lastly, some professors mentioned that they had already changed their model and described their experiences:
“I have already changed my grading model, and I will never be able to look back to assigning letter grades.”
“I just changed from a traditional points-based grading scale to specifications grading. I switched because I wanted students to pay more attention to my feedback and use it to improve their work.”
“I just did. Conventional grading is often at odds with learning.”
Q2: What are the barriers for you to adopt alternative grading models?
A few faculty members resist changing their grading model because they believe that traditional grading is the most effective way to measure students:
“Our students need to be able to accept constructive criticism. I work overtime to provide voluminous feedback and invite individual meetings to discuss that feedback. In short, I feel like I am working to make the best of both systems – a basic signal about mastery of the material combined with strategies for strengthening writing and argumentation.”
“My only goal in grading is honesty in communicating a student’s mastery of a particular set of material. Many alternative models reflect different criteria that, while laudable in general, do not reflect this goal.”
Many other faculty members cited institutional requirements or departmental pressure as a reason for avoiding change:
“Ire of departmental colleagues. Many of them, I think, believe strongly that traditional grading is a good thing (not just a necessary evil).”
“Somewhat time related, and caution about senior colleague review of my work at mid-contract/tenure review stages.”
“I am required to submit letter grades at the end of the semester. Some members of my department don’t like to see us give too many high grades.”
Some other responses addressed a lack of materials and time:
“Time and mental energy to learn it and develop the assignments and course materials to support it.”
“I haven’t had the time to revise the class materials. I’m also reluctant to make changes prior to my first review.”
“Need time to get my head around it and figure out how to implement.”
Lastly, here’s what one faculty member who had already changed their grading model had to say about their experience:
“I have already made that switch and couldn’t be happier about it. My initial barrier had been not knowing enough about it but thankfully, there are many great resources out there and it has only been pure bliss for me ever since.”