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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: December ::
(R) Re: Grade Inflation
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2854 (R)  Monday, 17 December 2001

[1]     From:   Jack Hettinger <
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        Date:   Friday, 14 Dec 2001 13:01:52 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 12.2842 Grade inflation

[2]     From:   Edward Pixley <
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        Date:   Saturday, 15 Dec 2001 09:45:03 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2838 Re: Grade Inflation

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jack Hettinger <
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Date:           Friday, 14 Dec 2001 13:01:52 -0500
Subject: 12.2842 Grade inflation
Comment:        RE: SHK 12.2842 Grade inflation

Re the theme of grade inflation, I think this handout I devised for a
workshop last August might be useful to some list members. Alas, I lost
all my bullets and endnote numbers in transferring the handout from Word
to email, and right now I am, like everyone, up to my eyebrows in finals
and can't fix it.

If anyone would like me to send the original document as an attachment,
he or she is welcome to contact me offline.

Jack

*********************
GRADING STANDARDS & GRADE INFLATION

Part I: What do we want our grades to say?
  That the student has mastered the course objectives to a certain
degree (A-F)?
  That the student has approached the course objectives to a certain
degree?
  That the student has grown from the first week to the last to a
certain degree?
  That the student has displayed a certain degree of effort?
  That the student performed to a certain degree relative to the other
students in the course?
  That the student performed to a certain degree relative to fixed
criteria?
  That the student is able to a certain degree to perform these skills
in the world?
  That motivating a student with grades will inspire achievement?

**************************
Part II: Some explanations for grade inflation (from various journals,
the Chronicle, colleagues):
  Indulgent profs watering down course content and evaluations (e.g.,
giving extra work, dropping worst grade) and spoon-feeding and
entertaining students.
  Serious grading takes a great deal of time.
  The pressure to publish makes us eager to keep students happy-what
student ever complained about a high grade?
  Aggressive grade challenges.
  Profs who don't stand up to students ("wilting professorial
backbone").
  Deans who don't back up profs in grade challenges.
  Deans who avoid implications of high GPAs. ("If a B+ is more an
average grade than it used to be and people understand that, I don't see
that as a problem"-Dr. Susan Pederson, Undergraduate Dean, Harvard,
2001. )
  Conflicts re institutional mission in open-enrollment institutions (do
we weed out or pass along the underprepared students our college is
dedicated to?).
  Universal grade inflation in high school which feeds unrealistic
expectations in college.
  Profs stimulating self-esteem by grading on effort (bending to "the
cult of self-esteem" ).
  Grades as "motivational" and as stimuli of self-esteem.
  "Invalid and unreliable methods" of evaluating student work (e.g.,
Bell Curve).
  Students with less commitment to their learning expecting high grades
for modest efforts.
  Bowing to the student-as-["disgruntled"]-consumer model, sometimes
linked with the prof-as-pal model; put another way, "You don't fail your
customers" (UPenn Wharton prof to Wall Street Journal writer, 1995).
  A correlation or causation between grades and student ratings (the
more lenient the grading, the higher the ratings), sometimes referred to
as blackmail.
  Relaxation of standards by instructors who do not care to risk any
questions about competence at tenure time.
  Teaching assistants and adjuncts who are vulnerable to student
ratings.
  Pressure that profs feel to give students the benefit of the doubt in
close calls when they need a certain average to remain in a program.
  "Pragmatic" students taking easier sections and courses; students
taking more electives in the humanities (where the embrace of relativism
has yielded greater inflation) than in the sciences (where GI is less).
  Colleges (e.g., University of Virginia Law School, Gettysburg College,
Dartmouth) officially adjusting grades up ("equalizing" or "what Yale
officially refers to as 'upward grade homogenization'" [Wilson]) so
their graduates can compete with students from other grade-inflated
institutions.
  "Lenient policies on repeating courses."
  The view that it is "theoretically senseless" to suppose that "one
individual [could somehow apply a] 'responsible' standard to another
individual's writing, especially in the form of a reductive five-point
grading scale," that "the act of grading writing is merely a repressive
act, an exquisite expression of a patriarchal violence that suppresses
significant difference, discourages different orders (e.g.,
non-hierarchical, non-dominant/subordinate), silences marginal voices,
inhibits creative risk taking ..."
  The notion that we should consider students' feelings when grading-"a
'Montessori' mentality that current students and even now faculty have
been raised with where you can be and do whatever you want.  The 'sky is
the limit' and 'everybody counts.'"

***********************
Part III: What is to be done?
  Nothing-things couldn't be better in this best of all possible worlds.
  "Ensure appropriate content, mode of presentation, and grading,"
rather than seek one or another specific remedy like "transcript
modification." (Basinger)
  Faculty must be committed to students' academic achievement. (Wilson)
  Departments should review their standards. (Cole, Wilson)
  Institutions should review their standards. (Cole, Wilson)
  Departments should upgrade or eliminate easy courses. (Wilson)
  Revise student rating system to control or eliminate blackmail effect.
(Wilson)
  A transcript should indicate average grade in each class next to
student's grade in that class-so-called transcript modification.
(Eastern Kentucky University, Cole)
  Replace letter grades with narratives.
  Adopt an honors-high-pass-pass-fail scheme (Levine, Chronicle, 19 Jan
1994).
  Adopt a student-portfolio system: graduating student displays "nature
and quality of school experiences" (adapted from recommendation to high
schools in Edwards, Education, 120:3).
  Orient and support adjuncts and TAs to maintain general standards.
  Faculty and students should meet to discuss their real values about
learning and grading (to avoid fundamental attribution error and its
influences on behavior-Pollio & Beck, Journal of Higher Education,
71:1).

***********************
Endnotes:
  Basinger, College Teaching 45:3.
  Wolfe, Letter to Chronicle, 2 March 2001.
  Economist, 14 April 2001.
  Taylor, Letter to Chronicle, 12 June 1998.
  Krautman & Sander, Economics of Education Review, 1999.
  Sonner, Journal of Education for Business 76:1; Cole, Chronicle, 6
January 1993. Re my use of rating rather than evaluation: students rate
courses, they do not evaluate courses; presidents, deans, chairs,
committees evaluate the student ratings.
  Wilson, National Forum 79:4, 38. Bradford Wilson is the executive
director of the National Association of Scholars.
  McSpirit et al., Journal of Instructional Psychology 27:2.
  This is from a letter to the editor responding in January, 1993, to
William Cole's essay in the Chronicle on grade inflation in the Harvard
English Department. Here is an excerpt:
...Uncommon, or theoretical sense, on the other hand, tells us that the
formal relationships in cultures between language, thought, emotion, and
writing are significantly overdetermined by systemic, socio-economic
forces.
Since such forces are largely (if not entirely) beyond the individual's
control, Cole's notion of one individual somehow applying a
"responsible" standard to another individual's writing, especially in
the form of a reductive five-point grading scale, is theoretically
senseless; the act of grading writing is merely a repressive act, an
exquisite expression of a patriarchal violence that suppresses
significant difference, discourages different orders (e.g.,
non-hierarchical, non-dominant/subordinate), silences marginal voices,
inhibits creative risk taking, and is, from my non-common-sensical,
"relativist" viewpoint, responsible for the fact the 60 to 80 per cent
of the college writing students I poll each semester "strongly dislike"
or "hate" English classes. What would this society do if too many people
liked to write?...
I, for one, hope the situation deteriorates beyond recognition, and I
will thus continue gleefully "inflating" grades every chance I get. (But
please don't tell anyone I said so: It is, I know, a serious crime.)
Thomas C. Kerr, Instructor of English, University of Wisconsin at
Milwaukee

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edward Pixley <
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Date:           Saturday, 15 Dec 2001 09:45:03 -0500
Subject: 12.2838 Re: Grade Inflation
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2838 Re: Grade Inflation

>Rather, the operative
>considerations are those that Cliff would be expected to sympathize
>with:  Political correctness ("no one should be called a failure, it
>hurts their feelings"); reluctance by the administration to admit poor
>judgment ("we let them in, now we have to let them get out") and
>litigiousness by students who feel free to raise a ruckus if they don't
>get honor grades.

Though I believe Larry is correct about the above considerations, I have
another theory about grade inflation.  It seems to me that serious grade
inflation began in the late '60s and early '70s when many professors
were reluctant to contribute to their students' eligibility for the
draft.  Many refused to flunk any student, and, in the most extreme
cases, gave out all A's. The habit continued and was institutionalized
when, within the next decade, those students who had received the
inflated grades became the professors.  By that time, B had become the
average grade, and D was the equivalent of flunking.

Just a thought,
Ed Pixley

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