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Carta removes performance feature following grading policy changes

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Carta — a popular course-planning website where students can read reviews and create schedules — has disabled its performance feature as a result of coronavirus-related grading policy changes.

When students now log onto Carta, they can no longer see a course’s grade distribution. Instead, a message reads, “In light of recent changes to grading policy related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Stanford leadership has asked the Carta team to disable our Performance feature.”

University registrar Johanna Metzgar informed the Carta team on April 3 that the data supporting Carta’s performance feature would not be available for winter and spring quarters, Carta faculty co-lead Michael Stevens told The Daily. 

On students’ course evaluation pages in Axess, data on student learning and a course’s instruction and organization have also been removed “in response to changes in instruction at the end of the term due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

According to Stevens, the decision to remove the performance feature was “made independently of Carta,” and “responsibility for [bringing the feature back] does not reside within Carta.” Stevens does not know if or when the grade performance feature will be reinstated, he wrote.

“Due to the disruption at the end of the winter quarter caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the changes in grading for the spring quarter — S/NC (satisfactory/no-credit) — that were implemented in response to COVID-19, we determined that performance information would not be sufficiently detailed to help students in planning their schedules,” wrote University spokesperson E.J. Miranda in an email to The Daily.

Miranda did not clarify whether or not the performance feature would be reinstated. 

The change has caused confusion among students. Katelin Zhou ’23 said that she and her friends used the feature to plan for their classes. 

”If we can tell certain classes have rather difficult curves, we know not to overload on units one quarter or vice versa,” she said. 

In 2018, Stanford researchers found that Carta’s grade distribution feature has a negative effect on students’ GPAs. On average, students who used Carta in the researchers’ study experienced a GPA decline of 0.16 standard deviations. That translated to a 0.28 standard deviation decline for freshmen and sophomores, but only a 0.09 standard deviation slide for juniors and seniors.

Jared Hysinger ’21 said he finds the grade distribution feature “unhealthy.” 

“Either you’re either lulled into a false sense of security if the class is easy which prevents you from getting as much out of the class as you could, or it scares you into thinking that you won’t do well in a class simply on historical data which has no indication on how you are going to do in the class,” he said. 

Hysinger believes the feature contributes to a diminishing return on the academic experience. 

“I think we owe it to ourselves as Stanford students to try our best in every class,” Hysinger said. “For me, taking down the grade distributions does not affect the way I will choose classes or shop classes.”

May 4, 9:45 p.m.: This article has been updated to clarify that the decision to remove the performance feature was made by Stanford, not by the Carta team.

This article has been corrected to reflect that the study measured GPA declines by standard deviations, not by points.  The Daily regrets this error.

Contact Ashlee Kupor at akupor ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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