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September 26, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 37


Letters to the editor

Approach to grading.

I am prompted to write by the recent article “Weeding Out Inequity in Undergraduate Chemistry Classes” (C&EN, Sept. 7, 2020, page 34). It seems that we still have two different philosophies about the meaning of course grades. It would be helpful if educators could one day address this dichotomy. Suppose that I receive an A in general chemistry. What does that signify?

Approach 1: The instructor clearly designated the learning objectives for the course. I was able to demonstrate that I completely satisfied these objectives and thus received an A grade. The course was presented in a very effective, student-oriented manner, so all the students were able to demonstrate satisfactory achievement of the course objectives. All therefore received A grades. The instructor believes the course was very successful.

Approach 2: The instructor explained at the outset the very high expectations for the course, which were intended to challenge the most capable students. The professor recognized that within a typical class, there is a wide spread in science aptitude, strength of prior science background, interest in the subject, motivation to work diligently, ability to perform well on exams, etc. Consequently, the instructor anticipated that relatively few students would be able to demonstrate a high level of mastery of the course material. My A grade signifies that I am apparently one of those high achievers. With 15% of the students demonstrating that high level of mastery, thereby receiving A grades, and another 30% demonstrating a very sound understanding of the material, thereby receiving B grades, the instructor believes the course was quite successful.

Raymond D. Baechler
East Greenbush, New York

Re: Diversity in ACS awards.

The Selection Committee for the ACS Award in Analytical Chemistry has made an eloquent and convincing argument in a letter to the editor that the contributions of women and underrepresented minorities should receive more recognition in the various American Chemical Society awards (C&EN, Sept. 7, 2020, page 2). This is a situation that all ACS members should strive to correct through the nomination process.

It may also be fitting that a nominee’s own strong efforts in this regard be considered when deciding on the award. But let’s not get carried away. The writers of the letter would require that all future nominations include a statement “directly describing how the nominee has addressed this important issue.” So a strong and well-recognized scientist who has discriminated against no one should not receive an award in a field of chemistry simply because that person does not have some documented proof of a commitment to diversity? Let’s not trivialize this important issue by carrying it to such ridiculous extremes.

William R. Oliver
Crittenden, Kentucky



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