Thursday, February 19, 2009

Grade inflation

If you have ever wondered what a grade of B+ actually means, or why you got an A- rather than an A then you may be interested to know that your professors are also wondering about this.

Kathy forwarded this New York Times article from a couple of days ago Student Expectations Seen as Causing Grade Dispute.

“Many students come in with the conviction that they’ve worked hard and deserve a higher mark,” Professor Grossman said. “Some assert that they have never gotten a grade as low as this before.”

He attributes those complaints to his students’ sense of entitlement.

“I tell my classes that if they just do what they are supposed to do and meet the standard requirements, that they will earn a C,” he said. “That is the default grade. They see the default grade as an A.”

The issue of grade inflation was addressed in a colloquium at UC Berkeley in 2004 and there is a summary online that contains some interesting points.

Dr. Dennis Hengstler of the Office of Planning and Analysis described the phenomenon of grade inflation as the "Lake Wobegon effect", one in which all of the students are "above average." Giving a historical perspective, Hengstler noted that in prior years a grade of "C" was considered "Average" and is now defined as "Fair."

My personal solution (which I have no hope of ever seeing implemented) would be to replace grades with a simple 2 x 2 matrix.

All students (and faculty for that matter) would fall into one of the four possible categories. You could have continuous scales if you prefer.

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