Naval Academy:

Low Grades in Electrical Engineering Courses Surface Broader Issues

NSIAD-91-187: Published: Jul 22, 1991. Publicly Released: Aug 7, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO investigated two incidents occurring at the U.S. Naval Academy's (USNA) electrical engineering department, focusing on the effect on faculty of the: (1) removal of the chairman of that department; and (2) decision to administer a final examination that may have been compromised.

GAO found that: (1) after almost half of midshipmen received unsatisfactory grades in introductory electrical engineering courses for nonmajors, the academic dean advised faculty to raise the grades in those courses; (2) the academic dean, citing a need for new leadership to improve student performance, removed the chairman of the department after he refused to raise grades; (3) the superintendent, citing his faith in the honor system, did not allow the faculty and the academic dean to delay a final examination after break-ins occurred in two faculty members' offices; and (4) there was no evidence of mass cheating on the examination. GAO also found that: (1) faculty members felt that the administration had improperly infringed on their role in academic matters; (2) the academic dean accepted a faculty-written policy statement supporting faculty autonomy in awarding grades; (3) some faculty members expressed concerns that the grades they gave could affect tenure decisions and performance ratings; (4) in response to the low grades in introductory electrical engineering courses, the academy shifted some first-semester course material for nonengineering majors to the second-semester course, deleted some material from the second-semester course, used an easier textbook, reduced the number of homework problems, and composed final examinations exclusively of previously assigned homework problems; and (5) it could not determine whether the higher grades obtained since those changes resulted from the lessened course difficulty and lenient grading practices.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Chief of Naval Education and Training conducted a review of the minimum professional core competencies and the USNA electrical engineering core courses were restructured.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Navy should direct the Chief of Naval Operations to determine whether the implementation by the various officer commissioning programs of the minimum professional core competencies in electricity and electronics are consistent and comply with the guidance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Navy

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USNA revised its electrical engineering core courses.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Navy should direct the Superintendent of the Naval Academy to explore the potential for satisfying the required minimum competency in electricity and electronics with other courses already in the core curriculum.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Navy

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USNA formed a committee and completed its evaluation in the summer of 1992. As a result, several electrical engineering courses were restructured and midshipmen performance in the core courses has improved.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Navy should direct the Superintendent of the Naval Academy to conduct a more systematic evaluation of the effectiveness of the initiatives implemented to improve the performance of midshipmen in the introductory electrical engineering courses.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Navy

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USNA now conducts an annual evaluation and midshipmen time study. This has resulted in a reallocation of daily hours devoted to study and increasing the priority of extra instruction.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Navy should direct the Superintendent of the Naval Academy to conduct an evaluation of the emphasis placed on academic activities in relation to military and physical activities. Such an evaluation should at a minimum include a review of the adequacy of study time and a review of the placement of extra instruction in the order of priorities outlined in the Midshipmen Regulations to ensure that they reinforce the Academy's emphasis on academics.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Navy

 

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