University to end covered grades in fall 2017

By SAM FOSSUM | May 6, 2016

The University announced this afternoon that it will discontinue covered grades, officially known as the first semester grading policy, in the fall of 2017. Next year’s freshman class will still have covered grades for their first semester, but the Class of 2021 will not. Current students will not have their first semester grades uncovered.

Covered grades were first implemented by the University in 1971 to make the transition from high school to college easier. In an email to the student body, Dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences Beverly J. Wendland and Dean of the Whiting School of Engineering Ed Schlesinger explained the reason why the University is eliminating the policy.

“[F]aculty members say that too often covered grades merely delay development of study skills and adaptation to college-level work,” they wrote. “At the same time, covered grades negatively impact students who perform well as first-semester freshmen.”

Wendland and Schlesinger added that covered grades are not common at other comparable universities.

“Johns Hopkins is virtually alone among peer institutions in using covered grades, and as a result, the practice is not well-understood and at times not well-received by graduate schools and potential employers,” they wrote.

Several other colleges have similar first semester grading policies to the University’s covered grades system. MIT instituted this policy in 1968 and Wellesley as recently as 2014.

The University has made strides in recent years to make the transition from high school to college smoother for freshmen, according to Wendland and Schlesinger, who cited PILOT, the Writing Center and the Mentoring Assistance Peer Program (MAPP) as examples.

“The university also has added more small classes and a more robust orientation program, both of which can help get freshmen off to a smooth start academically,” they wrote.

Student Government Association Executive President Charlie Green sent an email to the student body on behalf of the SGA Executive Board denouncing the lack of student input.

"[W]e fundamentally oppose any decision-making process that excludes student input," she wrote. "We believe that the student voice is vital to developing effective and sustainable policies–particularly those that will have a serious impact on students' academic lives."

Green wrote that the Executive Board has already received student responses to the change, specifically on how covered grades affect the mental health of incoming students, on Hopkins' academic rigor and the academic transition process, and on the potential impact the change will have on extracurricular activities and campus spirit. She wrote that the Executive Board would protect the interests of students and advocated action.

"The best way to encourage administrative action is to prove that we are affected by their measures and highlight key areas for attention. For example, a petition can be one step in responding to administrators," she wrote.

The process to change the covered grades policy began in 2008 when the Homewood Academic Council established a subcommittee to review the grading system. According to the Academic Council’s public minutes from Oct. 15, 2008, the subcommittee was to write a report and make a recommendation for the Academic Council to vote on.

Twelve voting faculty members and seven ex officio members, including University President Ronald J. Daniels, who serves as permanent chair, comprise the Homewood Academic Council.

In 2011 the Academic Council voted to repeal the covered grades policy, starting in 2014.

The minutes from June 8, 2011 state, “Eliminate the current covered grades policy for first semester freshmen effective July 1, 2014, thus freshmen entering in the fall of 2014 will be graded using the conventional grading method that applies to all other students at that time.”

However, the Academic Council’s decision rested on final approval, which was recently granted. The decision cannot be appealed.

Rollin Hu and Will Anderson contributed reporting. This story is developing and will continue to be updated.

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