November 13, 2013
A is for Average
The percentage of A grades awarded in colleges throughout the United States have skyrocketed over the past 50 years. Unfortunately, this trend is not seen as an indication of higher quality or harder-working students. In fact, many studies have found that students in higher education devote considerably less time to studying and completing schoolwork than in the past. Corollaries between grade inflation and changing grading policies can be readily identified as content reduction and motivational factors have become a basis for raising student’s grades. While many people may not posses a clear understanding of this subject or recognize the dangers of inflation it is clearly an issue that needs to be addressed not only by administration and faculty but also students as they transition into higher education in pursuit of a college education. The consumer-based mentality that has developed within higher education causes both internal and external incentives for faculty to grade more generously and has resulted in a skewed perception of national aptitude and has subsequently increased the difficulty for graduate schools and employees to distinguish between the average and the excellent.
Although the opinions may be split on the central causes or resulting effects of inflation the definition is quite simply defined and readily accepted by American educators. As Richard Kamber, professor of Philosophy and Literature at Claremont Graduate School was quoted in James Kay’s book Grade Inflation: Academic Standards in Higher Education “’The symptoms of grade inflation are familiar: an upward shift in the grade point average of students over an extended period of time…without a corresponding increase in student achievement’”(89). An in depth study of this trend was recently done by Stuart Rojstaczer, a former Duke University professor, and Christopher Healy, associate professor of computer science at Furman University in South Carolina. In explanation of their studies intent Rojstaczer states “Looking at the evolution of grading over time in American colleges and universities over the past 70 years our data provides a means to examine how instructors’ assessments of excellence, mediocrity, and failure have changed in higher education”(6). Their research team collected data on A-F letter grades over 200 four year colleges and universities and found that on average A’s represent 43% of all letter grades, an increase of 28 percentage points since 1960 (Rojstaczer 9). Now that A’s have become the majority of grades presented to students the assessment scale has become highly compressed to the upper end of the spectrum. Grades have lost their motivational power for the student body and are now of little use for graduate schools and employers as a means of evaluation.
The fact that this problem exists within American society is not highly debated within Academia as it becomes nearly impossible to avoid the reality indicated by numerous studies and statistics that graduates are not as prepared or qualified upon their completion of college as students in the past. However, what is contested is the central cause of the consistent grade increase over the decades. Some seek to assert that this change is due to the changing trends within the educational structure since the 60s. For example, the cause of this trend has been attributed to the heightened enrollment of female students and increased diversity within colleges, while others seek to create a correlation between a lower percentages of the student body employed while attending college and the increase in As received (Hussar, W.). Yet strangely enough, none of these factors have strong enough evidence to be the main driver for changing patterns in grading. On the contrary, lowering of standards by both faculty and students appear to have the strongest connection to rising grades in the United States....
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