Friday, August 5, 2011

Grade Inflation

An early stage professor posted this view on grade inflation:

I have to agree with the article that students do tend to expect A's. But mainly because they work hard, and the expectation is that if you work hard and learn the material, you should get an A. I don't really see this grade inflation as a problem. To me, an A grade means you learned the material and showed proficiency in it, not that you performed better than XX% of your classmates. Grades are not a ranking tool, but an indication of proficiency. I think that having a clear expectation of what you need to do to get an A makes it more likely that students will work harder to meet these requirements and learn the material better.

I think that this really is where the grade inflation is coming from. When I was a wee one, back in my home country, the decoding scheme for grades was:

A: Exceptional Work above and beyond expectations
B: Clear Mastery of material and met all expectations
C: Deficiency in one or more aspects of the course
D: Don't take any more courses in this area
F: Fail (with attendant consequences)

I think that the shift to A's being regarded as showing proficiency has been part of the general creep in academic culture. After all, an A average is starting to look like a requirement for entry to graduate school. I remember when a straight B average was solid evidence that a student was ready for graduate level work.

On the other hand, viewed in this light there isn't any real inflation. We have just changed the definitions of performance and introduced right truncation to make it impossible to pick out the really exceptional students by transcripts alone. I, of course, hate this approach but I can see why it might be popular if the focus is "did they get it or not" and reducing the arms race to demonstrate exceptional performance.

1 comment:

  1. I've always wondered if we should accept grade inflation, but constantly introduce new letters (or lots of +'s) on top to avoid truncation.