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    Joined: Feb 2011
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    I agree to some extent, Edwin-- but as my DH quickly noted when I mentioned this phenomenon--

    statistically, it seems somewhat unlikely that MOST students attending even an "elite" institution have so little to learn that they are earning A's at everything.

    I agree with him. While I loathe the application of normal distributions in determining grades in a college cohort (well, any cohort, really, because I subscribe to mastery-oriented benchmarking there), I also know from experience that students TEND to distribute themselves more or less into a normal distribution in introductory coursework, and a top-heavy version of it later on in upper-division courses.

    I've never taught an undergraduate class where 90% or more of students earned some kind of A, and my grading always allowed for it. Now, one can certainly argue that the quality of students I was seeing was significantly different from the average at Harvard, and that's probably true, but still-- the students from there that I've rubbed elbows with at meetings sure didn't come across as THAT much different.

    The highest percentage I ever personally saw was 14 A/A- grades in a class with 32 students in it. I thought that was very high-- but what the heck, they had mastered what I set for them, so there it was. KWIM? Even so, the average that term was still an 82%. There were just a lot of really great students in that particular section, which overlaid the regular distribution. But that regular distribution was most certainly still PRESENT.

    So I'd say that it may beg the question of either methodology/integrity of assessment or, as Edwin noted, the level of the curricular offering.


    I know someone who was TOLD to reevaluate a final exam in an undergraduate chemistry course at an Ivy whilst a graduate teaching assistant there. The student in question was the daughter of a former Atty. General. The college dean very clearly told the grad assistant that "there has clearly been a misunderstanding" regarding the undergraduate's (well-deserved) low C grade on that exam. Apparently, it would need to be "looked at again" unless it were an A.

    That was in the mid-90's, by the way.


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    But it's a question of the function of grades...
    Are their purpose to manipulate students into doing particular things?
    Should they represent whether a student mastered the material of a course? per the instructor? per the department? per the school? per a universal standard?
    Maybe it represents mastery of the methodology of a future career? or the material plus some meta-skills?
    Is it a feedback mechanism for students to gauge their own efforts?
    Is it a competitive mechanic within the domain of the classroom? within the domain of the school? within society?
    A message from an instructor to future employers as to the usefulness of the student?
    A semi-competitive sorting mechanism?
    A message about the quality of the school? quality of the instructor? challenge of the course?

    A single numerical grade would be awkward to combine any two of these into something meaningful. Let alone the significant quantity of these that seem to be a part of the mix.


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    This guy must've been scared he was only going to get an A minus.
    http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/18/justice/massachusetts-harvard-hoax/index.html?hpt=hp_t3

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    Updating this thread, for future readers, by pointing to a post with an article, "Is grade inflation a real problem?"

    Possibly conversation could continue here, or on a new thread, to avoid veering off-topic on the Ivy League Admissions thread. smile

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    When you've read the article, I'd love to know what you think.

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    Originally Posted by indigo
    Originally Posted by mckinley
    When you've read the article, I'd love to know what you think.
    Short answer: Apples and oranges! Varied time periods! College grades vs. IQ scores!

    Longer answer: The author has an interesting and far-ranging discussion but I personally do not see it as building to a conclusion. Rather it reminds me of so many magazine articles which consider various aspects but remain open-ended and questioning.

    The title does not ask whether grade inflation exists, but whether it is a real problem... to which some may say that the answer may differ based on one's viewpoint. For example:
    - If one expected grades to sort/rate/rank a group of individuals by relative degree of knowledge in a topic, then grade inflation (if it occurred) would be a problem.
    - If one expected grades to create a record of "equal outcomes" among a group of individuals, then grade inflation may be seen as a welcome solution to a problem.

    The author's premise: Grade inflation does not exist; what we see is growth; today's students are smarter than students of 30 years ago.

    The article contains many external links. It may be worthwhile to isolate and focus on the cluster of thoughts expressed in relation to each external link? Addressing the article in bite-size pieces may facilitate creating a series of brief, individual posts exploring the ideas imparted.

    1) wikipedia - Grade Inflation

    2) wikipedia - Tragedy of Commons

    3) wikipedia - Flynn Effect

    4) College Simply - Harvard acceptance rates

    5) Quora - Harvard acceptance rates 30 years ago

    6) CNBC - Harvard's incoming class is 1/3 legacy

    7) ERIC digest - Grade Inflation in Higher Education

    8) SAGEpub - Grade Inflation and the Signaling Power of Grades

    9) Taylor&Francis Online - Grade inflation in UK higher education

    10) Wiley Online Library - University Competition, Grading Standards, and Grade Inflation

    11) wikipedia - availability heuristic

    12) US Census - population clock

    13) BLS/OOH - Post-Secondary Teachers

    14) Slate - Small number of elite universities produce most of America’s professors [i] (redirect)[/i]

    15) wikipedia - Curse of Knowledge

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    Originally Posted by indigo
    to which some may say that the answer may differ based on one's viewpoint. For example:
    - If one expected grades to sort/rate/rank a group of individuals by relative degree of knowledge in a topic, then grade inflation (if it occurred) would be a problem.
    - If one expected grades to create a record of "equal outcomes" among a group of individuals, then grade inflation may be seen as a welcome solution to a problem.

    I think this is the real heart of the discussion. You have formulated two viewpoints here. One seems, based on your other posts, to be what you view as the position antagonistic to yours i.e. "equal outcomes." So I'm going to infer that the first viewpoint is how you see grades and why you think grade inflation is a problem.

    I take a third viewpoint that denies both of those.

    The purpose of grades is not to rank a group or track aggregate outcomes. The purpose is to assess the degree to which an individual student met the requirements of an individual assignment. A side effect is that sorting and ranking can take place. Grade inflation may be a phenomena, but it isn't a problem because the goal of the people giving the grade is not to give out the highest grades or equal grades, but to communicate their assessment of the student's learning to the student. Even my worst professors were trying to pass on the same knowledge to all of the students (a goal of "equal outcomes") They were not concerned with ranking students.

    Because that's how I view grades, I look at grade inflation and aside from shrugging, I think maybe it's possible people are actually learning how to do instruction better over time. If instruction methods improve, if study methods improve, and if people assign more importance to doing well in college, it doesn't seem unreasonable to maybe see an upward trend in grades over time.

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    When discussing grade inflation, it may be helpful to have some good working definitions.

    Grade inflation is NOT an upward trend in grades, reflective of learning more.

    Grade inflation IS:
    "An increase in student grades (and by extension, their grade point average) without corresponding evidence of any increase in achievement." (Potter, Nyman & Klump, 2001)
    (Eaton, Sarah & Penaluna, Ann. (2019). Grading with integrity: Opening the uncomfortable conversation around grade inflation.)

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    Originally Posted by mckinley
    The purpose of grades is not to rank a group or track aggregate outcomes. The purpose is to assess the degree to which an individual student met the requirements of an individual assignment. A side effect is that sorting and ranking can take place. Grade inflation may be a phenomena, but it isn't a problem because the goal of the people giving the grade is not to give out the highest grades or equal grades, but to communicate their assessment of the student's learning to the student. Even my worst professors were trying to pass on the same knowledge to all of the students (a goal of "equal outcomes") They were not concerned with ranking students.

    Originally Posted by indigo
    Grade inflation is NOT an upward trend in grades, reflective of learning more.

    Grade inflation IS:
    "An increase in student grades (and by extension, their grade point average) without corresponding evidence of any increase in achievement." (Potter, Nyman & Klump, 2001) (Eaton, Sarah & Penaluna, Ann. (2019). Grading with integrity: Opening the uncomfortable conversation around grade inflation.)
    I do not think that that is necessarily the definition that everyone (or even most people) are using for "grade inflation." When I have seen the term used, it seems to most often be in the context of "in my day, you had to get a 90% to get an A, and nowadays you can get an A with a 85%!" Where I went to college, the exams were hard enough that you might get an A with a 50%, so I find the fixation on achievement in terms of percentage correct to be particularly pointless.

    I agree that we can't really have a meaningful discussion of grade inflation without some kind of agreement about what it is. But even if we agree to the quoted definition, that doesn't mean that any other publication that it discussing it is going to use the same standard. That makes it hard to cite evidence to support that it even is going on, let alone that it is a problem that needs to be solved.

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    I was kind of shocked by that PowerPoint. Is an A+ in the UK really 75%? Over here in flyover country A- is 90-92% and there is no such grade as A+.

    It seems to be (Baker 2018) one of the concerns is that student evaluations influence teacher grading. My experience in 2008-2012 was that my school set things up to avoid causing an unintended effect. Evaluations were done before final grades were entered. The teacher could not be in the room during the evaluation. The responses are all anonymous and the written answers were retyped by staff. The evaluations aren't even opened until long after the final grades are entered. Obviously that's just my experience. I'm always a bit of an outlier, but my concern with faculty was not good grades but more availability.

    People in the education field would want to focus on this as an ethical issue, in the same way medical professionals focus on topics like over-prescribing antibiotics. However, my GPA and the level of honors on my degree hasn't had any positive impact on my ability to get jobs. Therefore worrying that someone else's inflated GPA or honors will give them an unfair advantage doesn't concern me.

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