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Communications of the ACM

Letters to the editor

Learn to Live with Academic Rankings

Letters to the Editor, illustration


No one likes being reduced to a number. For example, there is much more to my financial picture than my credit score alone. There is even scholarly work on weaknesses in the system to compute this score. Everyone may agree the number is far from perfect, yet it is used to make decisions that matter to me, as Moshe Y. Vardi discussed in his Editor's Letter "Academic Rankings Considered Harmful!" (Sept. 2016). So I care what my credit score is. Many of us may even have made financial decisions taking into account their potential impact on credit score.

As an academic, I also produce such numbers. I assign grades to my students. I strive to have the assigned grade accurately reflect a student's grasp of the material in my course. But I know this is imperfect. At best, the grade reflects the student's knowledge today. When a prospective employer looks at it two years later, it is possible an A student had crammed for the exam and has since completely forgotten the material, while a B student deepened his or her understanding substantially through a subsequent internship. The employer must learn to get past the grade to develop a richer understanding of the student's strengths and weaknesses.


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