Guidelines on Grades and Student Privacy
In dealing with information about individual students; faculty advisors, instructors, and staff should always be aware of the need to protect students' privacy. In 1999, MIT approved a new Student Information Policy that complies with federal and state law, and that explicitly addresses the responsibilities associated with handling student information.
Within the Institute, student information should be made available only to those officials with a legitimate need to know it. With few exceptions, it should NOT be made available to others—including parents and guardians—except with a student's specific, written consent.
This section offers detailed information on two specific topics related to student privacy:
Release of Freshman Hidden Grades
The performance of freshmen in all subjects taken during their first term at MIT (as well as during the January Independent Activities Period) is communicated on a Pass/No External Record basis.
In the second semester, freshman performance is communicated on an A,B,C/No External Record basis.
Instructors are expected to submit regular letter grades each term to the Registrar. In the first semester and in IAP, a passing grade for a freshman is permanently recorded as a P. The P appears on both the external transcript and the internal grade report. A, B, and C grades are only communicated to advisors and students at the end of the fall term and IAP in the form of two-part unofficial reports, which also include non-passing grades. These are called "hidden grade" reports.
Freshman non-passing grades (D, F, O, OX) appear on the internal grade report (they are followed by an N for No Record). They do not appear on the external transcript.
In other words, "hidden" grades include:
- First semester and IAP—A, B, C, DN, FN, ON, OXN
- Second semester—DN, FN, ON, OXN (N=No Record).
As approved by the Committee on the Undergraduate Program (CUP), here are the Guidelines for the Use of Hidden Grades:
- Hidden grades exist to help student self-evaluation and academic advising at MIT.
- First-year hidden grades may not be used to prevent students from enrolling in an academic department.
- MIT recognizes a student's right under Federal law to have access to information maintained about him or her, but MIT will not send copies of hidden grades to third parties. It is not consistent with the purpose of hidden grades for faculty or staff members to release them except to the student, or to take initiatives such as suggesting that students provide first-year hidden grades to third parties.
- No MIT office or individual should provide information directly to a graduate school, company, or any other third party concerning assigned hidden grades—by phone, in writing, or by transmitting the unofficial report of the student's hidden grades. If the student requests it, a letter, addressed to the student, will be prepared by the academic department that offered the subject, informing him or her of the assigned grade that is in the file. It is hoped that students' use of hidden grades for other than intended purposes can be reduced to the lowest level possible.
- When a department provides a grade to a student, in a letter, for the purpose of being put in a pre-med advisor file for possible transmission to medical schools, the grade shall carry NO modifiers.
- The Registrar's Office will retain a record of letter grades assigned to freshmen. This record may be used for educational research purposes only under the authorization of the Dean for Undergraduate Education.
Hidden grades are used within MIT for advising functions; that is, helping students make academic choices. It is inappropriate to use hidden grades for "evaluating" students; that is, making comparisons leading to choices among students, such as selections for student employment or UROP.
According to the Rules and Regulations of the Faculty, academic departments should keep the record of hidden letter grades assigned to freshmen for five years; they should then destroy the record. The Dean for Undergraduate Education is responsible for ensuring that hidden grades are used only as described above.
The complete policy on the release of freshman hidden grades can be found in Section 8 of the Academic Guide.
The Student Information Policy can sometimes make it awkward when an advisor is questioned by a parent about an advisee's academic performance or status. Often the student has already shared some of this information with his or her parents, or occasionally a parent may have opened a grade report or Committee on Academic Performance (CAP) letter even though these are always addressed to the student.
As the advisor, you cannot confirm, deny, or disclose personal or academic information to parents or others without your advisee's specific written consent. However, you may provide more general information about the meaning of MIT grades, academic policy and performance, and so forth.
Be cautious when students telephone you for advising from their permanent home; their parents or guardians should not also be on the line. Email, too, is not always secure; be careful when emailing a non-MIT address.
In general, you should encourage advisees and parents to communicate directly with each other about academic or personal issues. Refer difficult situations to the deans in Student Support Services at 617-253-4861, or to Deans Julie Norman or Donna Friedman, 617-253-6771.
A more complete statement of MIT's policy regarding disclosure of student information to parents and guardians can be found in section 6.1 of the 1999 policy statement. You should also familiarize yourself with policies governing disclosure of student information to other academic institutions (section 6.2) and to government agencies (section 6.3).
Questions or complaints should be directed to the Committee on Student Information Policy, email@example.com.