Our examination of nationwide trends indicates that grading practices were largely constant for decades, but grade distributions have undergone gradual yet very significant changes since the 1960s. For the schools in our database, the number of A’s awarded has increased to such a degree that A is now ordinary. On average, A is now by far the most common grade awarded on American four-year campuses. Substandard grades, D and F, typically are awarded less than 10% of the time even on campuses with students of modest academic caliber.Source, via.
Our data (Figure 1) show that in 1960, as in the 1940s and 1950s, C was the most common grade nationwide; D’s and F’s accounted for more grades combined than did A’s. On average, instructors were assigning grades by using a slightly skewed normal distribution curve centered at about a C+. By 1965, however, B had supplanted C as the most common grade, and D’s and F’s were becoming increasingly less common. From the early 1960s to the mid-1970s, grades rose rapidly across the nation, and A became the second most common grade awarded...
The Vietnam era was followed by a decline in A’s that lasted for roughly a decade. Awarding of A’s began to rise again in the mid-1980s. From 1984 to the mid-2000s, the proportion of A’s increased by a fact or of 1.5. By 2008, A’s were nearly three times more common than they were in 1960.
Our data on historical grade distribution averages agree well with other studies that have compiled grade distributions and GPAs from university-based data (Edson, 1955; Juola, 1976, 1980; Perry,1943; Sus low, 1976).
11 December 2013
Nationwide collegiate grade inflation
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I have thought about this for a while, and have realized that we are conflating the meaning of grades.ReplyDelete
Should a grade be used to rank students, or should it be used to acknowledge that a student has sufficient knowledge of a subject?
If you want grades to rank students, then you obviously need to make your grading scale wide enough so that the absolute best are at the top, the vast majority are in the middle, and the worst are at the bottom. In other words, it should not be possible for everyone to achieve an A, and in fact, only a small percentage should achieve this, and if too many are, then your course should be harder because your students are capable of learning more (since so many are learning everything you require)
If you want grades to reflect sufficient knowledge of a subject, then it should be possible, even desirable, for everyone to achieve an A.
I'm not sure what an increase in "A"s actually shows. Sure, the conventional wisdom is that it is "grade inflation" - but couldn't it also equally be that students are higher-achieving, knowing that grades matter for so much more these days? Or that since education is so much more expensive, that it is simply unacceptable for a student to get an "F" or even a "D"?
In fact, since so many people focus on grades, and see anything less than an A to be a scarlet letter, wouldn't it be systemically wrong to force most people down to the average of a C? Particularly when education costs so much these days and the penalty for not getting one is so severe?
I think you're making the argument that supports pass/fail grading systems.Delete
Also, in a large enough sample with a difficult enough curriculum ranking and mastery of the subject are exactly the same. When I taught a course for four students I gave two A's and two B's. They all learned the material (and it was an elective so smart people self selected).Delete
However when I taught Programming II for majors with 250 students I could forecast to within +/- 5 people (2%) how many A's I would be giving before any work was submitted. All hail the bell curve.
I'd postulate that it is not grade-inflation that is the problem, but the blind trust that many put in (high) GPAs as a measure of the 'quality' of a graduate. This drives the desire of many students to get As. And since students buy their education, their suppliers do what their customers want.ReplyDelete
Sadly, getting a good education is often put secondary to getting As.
I've long advocated a two-dimensional grading system to tackle the problem NoPolitician describes.ReplyDelete
A grade letter (A-F) is awarded to illustrate a student's mastery of the subject matter (i.e. how much of the course material they know). A very able/dedicated cohort may achieve a high number of A grades in any given year, as long as they have mastered their subject.
A grade number (1-6) is awarded to illustrate a student's relative ranking within the class/course/year (i.e. how well this student has performed compared with their peers). Grades 3 and 4 would be most common, with 1s and 6s awarded rarely to those at either end of the bell curve.
A prospective employer can then compare students' academic achievement with far more information. A student with a B1 indicates that they may not have the best subject knowledge, but that very few in their class did better - perhaps the course was particularly hard. A student with an A3 shows that they learned everything they were told to learn - but so did everyone else. Either the class was easier, or the competition fiercer.
I like that idea. Especially given the trend of most students in business school getting cum laude+, while very few students in math and science departs do (that was the case at my alma mater, at least). It's always struck me as singularly unfair that a student taking much harder classes can get no recognition for a tough job well done, while someone taking mostly easy classes can get recognized for the small amount of effort they put in.Delete
The only hitch would be how to compare small class sizes to large ones. For example, I was valedictorian of nine students at my high school- and I did actually earn it- but that should have much less impact than the same rank for the valedictorian from a class of 100s.
Minnesotastan, I may be making such an argument.ReplyDelete
Lately, I have been puzzled when people talk about someone being the "most qualified". That seems like an oxymoron - you're either qualified, or you're not. Of course, it makes sense that you'd want "the best" employee, and that some employees are obviously better than others. However, left out of that is the idea that half your employees will be below average. That's just reality, and perhaps shouldn't be perceived as badly as it is perceived.
I would argue that creating a truly objective system of grading people on a fine-toothed scale to rank people is probably impossible. So why put so much stock in such a thing?
Lots of things in life are pass/fail, from drivers' license tests to pet obedience school. I think it should be used more often.Delete
Re your last paragraph, I fully agree. I remember in particular a year during my graduate education when the class members' overall grades were ranked by the school - to two decimal places! As though someone with an average grade in all courses for the year of 84.57 somehow "ranks higher" than someone whose score is 84.51. That is nonsensical and is based on a kind of pseudo-precision that is meaningless.
Oh my goodness... I ran into a English college professor that was trying to single-handedly reverse grade inflation. An awful combination of a young professor with warped ideals grading a class where there is truly is no definite "right" or "wrong" answers!ReplyDelete
I ran into a English college professor that was trying to single-handedly reverse grade inflation.Delete
Oh, I did the same. After teaching the same class a few times, I decided it was ridiculous that 30% of the class got an A , and another 20% for an A-. So, a year later, I made the hard questions harder, while leaving the easy questions similar - I did not want to hurt the students working hard but barely hanging on. Result? The number of As went down by half. Lots of pre-meds will blame their destroyed medical career on me.
Grades are so easy to manipulate. Which is another reason why people should not rely so much on GPAs.
Thanks, Hippies! Not only you've created the entitlement mentality, you've given medals to all, emasculated the American Male, but also ruined the Education system. I hate you and your Patchouli.ReplyDelete
So you're bitching at the Hippies of the 1960s for doing all this??? Girl, I don't know how you figure that.Delete
Mike in South Dakota