Pomona Student Body Votes for Shadow Grading

On March 3, the Associated Students of Pomona College (“ASPC”)—the student body government of Pomona College—announced the results of a student-body wide referendum concerning shadow grading. According to an email sent by the president of ASPC, 73% of students who voted in the referendum voted in favor of shadow grading.

According to the referendum’s website, “shadow grading” means that “(1) students are graded normally, but their transcript reflects only whether they passed or received no credit in their classes; and (2) students may petition to selectively reveal their shadow grades for specific purposes (e.g., internship or graduate school applications).”

Two weeks ago, ASPC’s Academic Affairs Committee wrote an opinion article in The Student Life urging students to vote for shadow grading, arguing that “college classes can catch students off guard and they might not know how to cope with the added rigor.”

“Depending on their backgrounds, students might spend their first year reeling from geographic upheaval, unprecedented academic challenges and new social norms,” the article added.

While ASPC’s Academic Affairs Committee mainly argued for the merits of shadow grading, including creating “a more equitable and less stressful first semester” and “[exacerbate] the current mental health crisis,” it also provided some downsides:

“First, students might be less motivated to put as many hours into their classes. Disciplines that require students to build on first-semester material (e.g., STEM, foreign languages and other “cumulative disciplines”) might be particularly affected. Second, shadow grading might delay the development of study skills, which means the stress of being graded will still set in — just in the second semester, not the first. These were among the main justifications relied on by Johns Hopkins University when it repealed its shadow-grading policy.”

Fellow Claremont Colleges Consortium member and STEM-focused Harvey Mudd College, along with sciences and engineering heavyweights California Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, implement shadow grading for the first semester or even year.

Of liberal arts colleges, Wellesley College most famously implements shadow grading. Currently, none of the Ivy League universities and colleges—Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, Brown, or Cornell—utilize shadow grading. Neither Amherst nor Williams Colleges, Pomona’s closest equivalents on the East Coast, have a shadow grading policy. 

If 60% or more of the faculty vote in favor of shadow grading, Pomona is likely to implement this policy.

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