It is already June, the month of the final exams and the end of the semester is now here. Wrapping up the semester, Kingos will receive their final grades as a result of their hard work and effort for the past four months. When getting grades, however, some of them might not be aware of how the grading system is being operated, and others might be dissatisfied with the system itself. Therefore, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) now analyzes the grading system of SKKU with its problems and suggests some possible solutions.
Grading Systems at Universities
Relative Evaluation System in Korea
While most universities in the United States (US) and many countries in Europe adopt an “absolute evaluation” system as their grading system, most universities in Korea operate a “relative evaluation” system. Absolute evaluation is the evaluation of students based on an absolute standard set by the educator. Relative evaluation, however, is the comparison of the academic performance of students and grading them based on their relative position within a specific group. It has the advantage of preventing grade inflation, where the value of high grades essentially falls as too many students get high grades. In addition, relative evaluation encourages students to study harder by engaging them in competition with one another and enables the evaluator to distinguish between the individual differences of each student through comparison. Relative evaluation, however, also has some problems at the same time. It may cause excessive competition among students, making cooperative study more difficult. Moreover, simply following a fixed percentage of grades can lead to a situation in which students who deserve higher grades receive lower grades and those who fail to meet the standards of the educator luckily get good grades.
Grading System at SKKU
SKKU has introduced a relative evaluation system since 1996,
and the current grading system is based on relative evaluation according to the school policy.
Exchange students and graduate students are excluded from the relative evaluation system. Based on the research and statistics conducted in the past, the school set 19 as the maximum number of students for small courses which can adopt a less intense grade percentage. This exceptional grade percentage is implemented for all the courses for special departments, which include the School of Global Leadership, the Department of Global Economics, Global Business Administration, the College of Software, the Department of Semiconductor Systems Engineering, the Department of Global Biomedical Engineering, and the Schools of Medicine and Pharmacy.
Grades are notified for a period of about one week after midterm and final examinations respectively. Kingos can check their grades during the grade notification period only if they have completed the course evaluations online. Otherwise, they can check their grades only on the last day of the grade notification period. Students also can raise an objection to their final grades to professors during the grade notification period. Two days after the grade notification period, and once the objection period ends, the grades of the semester are then finally confirmed. In the 1st semester of 2018, the grade notification period is from June 27th to July 3rd, and the final confirmation date is on July 5th.
Problems of Grading System at SKKU
Relative Grading System Not Evaluating Students’ Achievements
Although SKKU currently employs a relative evaluation system, there are several problems in general. First of all, a relative evaluation ranks students by their scores, which causes excessive competition among students. Some criticize that the excessive grade competition disrupts the real purpose of university education. Also, the relative evaluation system cannot evaluate the academic performance of each student on courses because it simply compares the scores of students, which are just numbers. Moreover, some students may feel frustrated under the relative grading system in which a certain percentage of students must get lower grades, despite the fact that they also studied hard. One Kingo at the Department of History complained, “When I took an i-Campus course, the exam was exactly the same with the previous exam. Therefore, most students got a perfect score, but I got one question wrong and got B+. I felt that was unfair.”
This is especially true for writing and communication courses, such as Creative Writing, Academic Writing, and Public Speaking and Debate. Despite the a small number of students and lots of assignments, it is hard for students to get good grades no matter how hard they study because the number of students who can get high grades is limited. Therefore, the current SKKU’s relative grading system might be unreasonable for these courses. Even some professors have negative opinions on the relative evaluation system of the school. A professor in the Department of Korean Language and Literature said, “Some professors feel uncomfortable about giving as many assignments as they want because they have no choice but to rank students under the relative evaluation system although most students do all the assignments and study very hard. I feel sorry that I sometimes have to give lower grades to students who deserve more than that.”
Loopholes in the Exceptional Grade Percentage
In order to solve the problems of the relative evaluation system, certain courses moderate the percentage of grades, where A grades are within 50%, and the sum of A grades and B grades is 90%. There are, however, still some loopholes. All courses in special departments adopt the exceptional grade percentage to grade students. It is, however, argued that the school seems to give an advantage to those special departments by applying a less intense grade. According to the academic affairs team at SKKU, the courses in special departments are given the exceptional percentage of grades, according to the school policy designed from the establishments of the departments. In addition, there are some problems of applying exceptional grade percentages to the courses with 19 or less students. Some students tend to take courses with a small number of students only for the loosened percentage of grades, and do not consider the contents of the courses. Furthermore, the percentage is unequally distributed to the major courses of certain departments with a small number of students.
Grade Notification Lacking Communication
Since final grades are the result of their hard work and effort of the entire semester, many students get anxious waiting for their grades to be announced. Under the grade notification system of SKKU, professors should notify students of their final grades online within the grade notification period. There are, however, some cases where the grades are notified too late for students to check their grades. Some professors, for example, notify students’ grades only a few hours before the end of the grade notification period. Although SKKU has separated the grading period from the grade notification period, there are some professors who do not upload students’ grades within the grading period. Since it is not mandatory for professors to finish grading within the period, the academic affairs team and the administrative office can do nothing but to keep contacting professors and asking them to input the grades.
When the grade notification period comes, students only receive final grades, not knowing the detailed scores of each specific criterion, such as an assignment, a midterm exam, and a final exam. For this reason, it is difficult for students to accept their final grades and raise objections to professors via the Gold Lawn Square (GLS). There are, however, some cases where objections to grades are not conducted properly. As mentioned above, some students do not have enough time to check and raise objections about their grades because their grades are released too late. Also, some professors do not even check and answer students’ objections one by one. Some professors, apparently, even warn students not to raise objections about grades or they might get lower grades.
Improving the Grading System at SKKU
Introduction of an Absolute Grading System
Due to the many problems of the relative evaluation system, several universities in Korea have been changing their grading systems from relative evaluation to absolute evaluation. The absolute evaluation has an advantage that students’ academic performances in classes can be evaluated properly. In this sense, the College of Medicine at Yonsei University has adopted the absolute grading system since 2014, and then, followed by Korea University (KU) and Seoul National University (SNU) in 2015 and 2017 respectively. In particular, Yonsei University stated that since it started to apply the absolute evaluation of Pass/Non-Pass to students from the 3rd grade at the College of Medicine, students’ average scores in each course have risen by about five points and that their motivation for cooperation and studying has increased as well. Moreover, the current grading system at KU is based on absolute evaluation. When adopting the absolute grading system, however, a school should try to prevent grade inflation by grading students through a consistent and fair process. KU, for example, revised the school policy regarding grading retake courses and advised professors to set a clear criteria when grading students with absolute evaluation.
As a compromise between relative and absolute evaluation, Ewha Womans University has given professors the autonomy of choosing how to evaluate students on a trial basis. Professors at Ewha Womans University can choose the most appropriate method to grade students with regard to the characteristics of the courses. They can choose either relative or absolute evaluation, or a compromise between the two. Even if professors choose to use relative evaluation, there is no limit on the percentage for each grade band. In addition, SKKU has also started to discuss the introduction of an absolute grading system. SKKU has employed the absolute evaluation for 10 “flipped classes” courses on a trial basis. A “flipped class” is a kind of course where the delivery of concept and knowledge takes place online in advance, and students study and discuss the contents together later in class.
Introduction of Student-friendly Grade Notification System
Many Kingos have been unsatisfied with the grade notification system of SKKU because they could not know the detailed scores of specific criteria for their grades. On the other hand, Konkuk University (KU) has a more advanced grade notification system. KU notifies students’ final grades including their scores on the midterm exam, final exam, assignments, and attendance. Moreover, KU informs the scores of previous assignments and allows students to raise objections when midterm exam scores are notified. Notifying scores of each specific criterion might improve the efficiency of the grade objection system. Students can raise reasonable objections after they understand how their final grades came out by checking specific scores. Meanwhile, the 50th student council S:with pledged to begin the “Grade Notification 3 STEP,” with the aim of clearly dividing the grade notification period, grade objection period, and the grade confirmation period. The purpose of this pledge is to guarantee students’ rights to check their grades on time and raise objections if they wish. S:with also plans to select “Grade Notification Awards” winners among professors in order to encourage quick grade notification and smooth communication regarding students’ objections.
Although many Kingos have studied hard to get high grades, the grading system might frustrate them on occasion. Therefore, the SKT hopes that the grading system at SKKU will be improved so that Kingos can get the reasonable grades that they deserve. Coming to the end of the semester, the SKT also wants to say, “Well done!” to all the Kingos who have had a hard time surviving another semester, regardless of their final grades.
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