UT should refrain from permanent grades for one semester

Olivia Griffin

In a hypothetical introductory course on campus, two students sit in the same room. One student graduated from an elite urban private school. In her English course, consisting of only 15 students, her teacher coached her to perfect her essays. Her parents hired private tutors to polish her math and science skills. She was offered numerous AP and IB courses and coached on note taking and other college readiness skills. Sitting across the room from her is a graduate from an under-performing school in South Texas. She has not had the extensive coaching from teachers on her essays because her school didn’t have sufficient resources, and her teachers were overburdened. She did not have the same level of tutoring in math and science. Her school did not provide a rigorous college preparatory curriculum. 

Yet immediately upon graduation, these two students are held to the same standards and assigned grades that go on their permanent record. The latter student is given no chance to catch up with the former student. 

Texas struggles with severe inequality in its schools that range from struggling low-income public schools to elite private schools that cost upwards of $30,000 per year. As a university that recruits a diverse student body, we should acknowledge this inequality and place an emphasis on ensuring that the university is more egalitarian to all, regardless of background. Assigning grades in the first semester inherently punishes students from lower-performing schools. A freshman from an underfunded public school is not going to have had the same preparation as a student from a high-achieving school, yet we pretend that this inequality does not exist. It’s unfair to make students compete on a playing field that heavily favors students from wealthy, high-performing schools. 

The school should exclude first semester grades from all students’ final GPA. While academic talent and hard work certainly contribute to the outcome of students’ grades in that semester, first semester GPA is also largely determined by the background of the students coming into the university and the quality of preparation by their high schools. By giving all students a grace period of a semester to catch up and adapt to the rigor of the university’s curriculum, we give students from low-income schools a chance to adapt to college. 

Many schools around the world have been successful in refraining from giving permanent grades to underclassmen and entering students. In British universities, only the grades from the upper-division “Honours” courses are calculated into the final reported grade. The university still holds students to a high standard and rewards good marks and hard work with other perks, such as early registration for students with the highest grades. Despite not having grades, the students still perform well and receive a quality education. British universities, including Cambridge and Oxford, are routinely named among the best and most rigorous universities in the world. Based on the British example, there is little concern that not assigning grades for a semester would encourage students to slack off. 

Education in Texas is fundamentally unequal, and as a university, we need to acknowledge this fact. To ensure students from low income schools and elite private schools compete on an equal playing field, we should grant students a grace period and not include first semester grades in final GPAs.

Griffin is a government and Plan II junior from Dallas. Follow her on Twitter @oglikesdogs.