Academic lines of excellence blur with grade inflation

By Renee Tomcanin
April 25, 2002

The next A on your report card might not be reflective of your success as a student.

Grade inflation, the trend of many higher educational institutions to give out more higher level grades, has many at Cabrini and other colleges and universities questioning what is the best way of assessing students.

According to Chad May, records and data coordinator in the registrar’s office, grade inflation is “the blurring of the lines between good and outstanding students.” The Chronicle of Higher Education said, “Grade inflation compresses all grades at the top, making it difficult to discriminate the best from the very good, the very good from the good and the good from the mediocre.” A’s and B’s no longer show above average work, since they are becoming the average at many schools. At Harvard, 50 percent of the grades were A’s.

May compared grade inflation to price inflation. They are similar in that they both keep rising. However, in price inflation there is no upper limit whereas the highest grade that can be achieved is an A, or sometimes an A+.

The significance of grade inflation can also be seen in what grades represent. According to May, employers look at transcripts and want to give jobs to those with higher GPAs. However, with grade inflation, they may not be getting an accurate representation of a candidate. The same is true for graduate schools.

Cabrini, like most institutions of higher education, has a high rate of grade inflation. May mentioned that this is not a new topic. The recent presidential election focused on education, and that is why it has been brought back into the eye of the public. Actions to control grade inflation have not been clearly defined at Cabrini as of press date.

There are some majors at Cabrini which are more difficult so the grades are lower, but May said that it was hard to determine if any one major was more or less guilty of grade inflation.

At other colleges, grade inflation has been hard to keep under control. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, there are different reasons for this. One is that students in modern times are used to having their self-esteem boosted. If a student receives an F it lowers their self-esteem and sets back the learning process.

Another reason grade inflation still occurs is that professors are pressured to give higher grades to please students and the college administrations. They want to be popular in order to receive higher student evaluations. David Lest, professor of psychology at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Colleges and universities reward faculty members who are popular, and popularity is harmed by giving many low grades. It is rare to find a college or university rewarding a faculty member for having strict grading standards.”

One solution to grade inflation is finding other means of evaluation. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the University of California at Santa Cruz gave out written evaluations, and no grade was assigned. The evaluations focused on student performance. This has had good results there. Currently, letter grades are being assigned, but the written evaluations are central.

Another alternative is using grade distribution. This follows a bell curve, where 2 percent of the grades are A’s, 68 percent fall as C’s and another 2 percent are F’s. The remaining grades are B’s and D’s. May said that since the bell curve follows a natural process, then grades should follow this.

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Renee Tomcanin

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