This article was published in CAUSE/EFFECT journal, Volume 21 Number 4 1998. The copyright is shared by EDUCAUSE and the author. See for additional copyright information.

The Expanded Grade Context Record at Indiana University
by Mark McConahay and Roland Coté

The issue of grade inflation has been debated widely and openly on college and university campuses and in the media for the past twenty-five years. This discussion in the mid-1970s at Indiana University in Bloomington resulted in the Faculty Council mandating that the registrar produce reports that show the distribution of grades. Since 1978, the registrar has provided a copy of grade distribution reports to each academic school and department. In 1994, the Faculty Council again discussed grade inflation, but this time focused on how best to present grades so that they will be more understandable and meaningful to students, advisers, and external recipients of transcripts. The Faculty Council charged its Educational Policies Committee (EPC) to develop a grade-indexing scheme that would put individual student grades into a context that would be meaningful to students as well as to all others who viewed the information.

The result, introduced in the spring of 1998, is IU's Expanded Grade Context Record, a system that generates a student record that includes elements from a traditional transcript as well as additional elements that place the grade into a broader context.1 The additional information includes:

The information in the record is distributed via standard reports such as transcripts and is also made available for inquiry via the World Wide Web. To ensure privacy, neither the index nor the context information appear when fewer than five students were enrolled in the course section or received a GPA grade.

The Expanded Grade Context Record system was jointly developed by members of the Office of the Registrar and University Information Technology Services (UITS).


Implementation of the system depended on the successful development of the following project components: grade context information database, the expanded grade context transcript, and the final semester grade report with context information.

Grade context information database
A DB2 database was created to store and retrieve grade distribution and context information. The database serves as the primary source of grade context information for all information retrieval, inquiry, and transcript production applications. In addition, since the data are relatively stable (frozen at the end of the term and again after grade processing is completed), they can be used to support academic performance research. The database also serves to create aggregate grade distribution reports (e.g., by course, academic school, academic department, and so forth).

In order to populate this database, a batch program was developed using the data file that drives our grade reporting process. This file is derived from our course history database at the conclusion of a grade processing cycle and includes standard grade information (e.g., grade, summary GPA).

The grade context information database is used as the primary source for the expanded grade context transcript and the final grade report, as well as for general inquiry on the Web (see This Web application is also linked from the Indiana Student Information Transaction Environment (Insite) which provides confidential student information and update services via the Web (see

Expanded grade context transcript
The creation of the expanded grade context transcript was by far the most complex component of the system. We wanted to leverage existing and developing components of our transcript production system (deployed on an OS/390 mainframe--Amdahl Millenium 535--running CICS 4.1). In addition, the system affected only the Bloomington Campus, not the entire Indiana University system, and the campus wanted printing flexibility (fonts, layout, and so forth). Thus, we decided to use a client/server architecture and client development tools. A partnership was formed: UITS was responsible for coding the central business rules, while the Office of the Registrar was responsible for developing presentation modules on client platforms. Thus, there were two primary components of the system: (1) the transcript production system and (2) the expanded grade context client.

The transcript production system was re-deployed and developed using an object-oriented approach. We isolated two primary sets of business rules: (1) the transcript building component, which gathers and calculates the data required for the construction of all transcript types or formats; and (2) selection modules in which rules defining a transcript type are stored. The central business rules were encapsulated and made accessible to any calling program using the correct protocol. These business rule modules were separated from data overhead activities and user interface and presentation modules. A separate selection module was created for the grade context record.

The grade context record is displayed and printed via a Visual Basic client application developed by the Office of the Registrar. This client application has four primary purposes: to identify the student, to display the student's transcript eligibility status (e.g., financial holds), to view the transcript, and to print the Expanded Grade Context Record.

The final grade report with context information
At the conclusion of each academic semester, all students receive a printed final grade report that includes a listing of their enrolled courses, credit hours, and the grades received. The new final grade report was developed to include this traditional information as well as grade context information.


The Expanded Grade Context Record system was completed in the spring of 1998. The Bloomington Faculty Council resolution reflected the University's desire to provide the reader of the final grade report and the transcript with sufficient information to place individual grades awarded within the context of the class. By including not only the index and grade distribution, but also some of the characteristics of the students in the class, the reader is in a better position to evaluate the individual grade awarded to the student and his or her academic performance. Advisers are in a better position to evaluate the progress of their students and to help them in future course selections. The faculty receives feedback concerning the student academic performance and their own grading practices.


The Expanded Grade Context Record system received the 1998 CAUSE Award for Best Practices in Applications (see The award recognized the work of Project Management team members R. Gerald Pugh, Roland Coté, Mark McConahay, Elizabeth McCullough, and Ulrik Knudsen; Application Development (UITS) team members Christopher Reising and Gary Weideman; Client Development (Registrar) team members Andy Adams and Jean Terret; Grade Distribution Reporting (Registrar) team members Susan Langsdale, Tina Hertel, John Scully, and P. Bruce Stephenson; and Implementation (Registrar) team members Patricia Wheeler, Gary McCullough, and Mary Beth Myers.


1 For more information about the Expanded Grade Context Record, see the Office of the Registrar home page (

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Mark McConahay ([email protected]) is Associate Registrar for the Systems Division at Indiana University in Bloomington. Roland Coté ([email protected]) is Associate Registrar for the Services Division at Indiana University in Bloomington. the table of contents

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