Sunday, December 26, 2010

Institutional strategies for dealing with grade inflation

Grade inflation has been a hot topic for a while.  According to the extensive data collected by this guy, Stuart Rojstaczer, average undergrad GPA's have been creeping upward at most schools for the past several decades (check out Mr. Rojstaczer's site here to see several graphs illustrating the phenomenon). 

What's the faculty to do?  Hold the line? (but risk having students at a competitive disadvantage when they apply for jobs with students from schools with grade inflation?).  Raise average GPA's across the board so students can compete with those other schools?  (but risk diluting academic rigor?).  This article from Sunday's New York Times offers several examples of what undergrad institutions are doing (having a mandatory curve, as most, I assume, law schools do, doesn't solve the problem if those schools periodically raise the curve as Loyola did this year - read here and here).

With college grades creeping ever higher, a few universities have taken direct action against grade inflation. Most notably, Princeton adopted guidelines in 2004 providing that no more than 35 percent of undergraduate grades should be A’s, a policy that remains controversial on campus.

Others have taken a less direct approach, leaving instructors free to award whatever grades they like but expanding their transcripts to include information giving graduate schools and employers a fuller picture of what the grades mean.

Dartmouth transcripts include median grades, along with the number of courses in which the student exceeded, equaled or came in lower than those medians. Columbia transcripts show the percentage of students in the course who earned an A.

At Reed College, transcripts are accompanied by an explanatory card. Last year’s graduating class had an average G.P.A. of 3.20, it says, and only 10 percent of the class graduated with a G.P.A. of 3.67 or higher.

'We also tell them that in 26 years, only 10 students have graduated with a perfect 4.0 average — and three of them were transfers who didn’t get all those grades at Reed,' said Nora McLaughlin, the registrar at Reed. 'We wanted to put the grades at Reed in context to be sure that graduate schools, particularly professional schools where G.P.A. is very much an important factor, understand how capable our students are.'

UNC, which the Times focused on to illustrate how undergrad faculty are dealing with grade inflation, is responding in this way:

As part of the university’s long effort to clarify what grades really mean, Mr. Perrin now leads a committee that is working with the registrar on plans to add extra information — probably median grades, and perhaps more — to transcripts. In addition, they expect to post further statistics providing context online and give instructors data on how their grading compares with their colleagues’.

'It’s going to be modest and nowhere near enough to correct the problems,' Mr. Perrin said. 'But it’s our judgment that it’s the best we can do now.'

You can read the rest of the NYT's article here.


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