The campus Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences department, or EECS, published new grading guidelines May 9, the first update to the department’s grading system since 1989.
A slight hike in the major’s grade point averages, listed online, reflects a reappraisal in how professors will award grades. The old policy, which marked a “typical GPA” for a lower-division class as 2.5-2.9, has been redefined as “in the range (of) 2.8-3.3.”
According to John DeNero, an EECS assistant teaching professor and chair of the EECS Undergraduate Study Committee that devised the new guidelines, there are two main reasons for the update. First, faculty and staff now have easy, digital access to centralized information on the actual grades administered. Secondly, DeNero said the department doesn’t want to disincentivize prospective students by misrepresenting grade point average distribution.
“We wanted the new range to reflect reality,” DeNero said.
While the old and new GPA ranges overlap, they reflect the greater trend of grade inflation — the rise in the average grade given to students — within the department.
Dan Garcia, a campus EECS professor, noted increasing inflation has consistently leaked into the grading process since 1989. According to Garcia, students have progressively performed at a higher rate over the years. Initiatives and new resource offerings, such as tutoring offered in and outside of the department, are perhaps responsible for the rise in top grades, Garcia said.
The adjusted guidelines will most impact how EECS professors structure and adjust curved courses, with the intent on further benefiting students, Garcia said.
Garcia explained that UC Berkeley students were hurt by the old guidelines because inflation was prevalent among departments comparable to EECS nationwide. Campus EECS students were at a marked disadvantage when competing with applicants from other schools for post-grad opportunities.
Garcia added students taking a class pass/no pass and graduate students have now been removed from curve calculations in an attempt to minimize grade distribution skewing in lower-division classes. The guidelines also provide general clarification on how pass/no pass students should be treated in curved courses.
This bodes well for students such as rising campus junior Bowen Wang, who studies EECS. Before guideline changes, Wang said he considered the curve unfair.
“The distribution is basically predetermined, so if the entire class does well with an A-level understanding, people on average still get B’s,” Wang wrote in a Facebook message.
Garcia and DeNero both reiterated that the faculty response has been receptive. In an email to the EECS department concerning the new changes, an unnamed professor wrote, “I had been more harsh in the past, and this clarifies what I should do in the future.”