Friday, September 5, 2014

One Of The Many Reasons I Retired

Back in the day, when I was a callow college student and dinosaurs roamed the earth, course grades were allocated based on the Bell curve - that is, a normal distribution where grades are used to differentiate between Excellent (A), Above Average (B), Average (C), Below Average, (D), and Failing (F). Put simply, this system was based on the notion that, by definition, in any group some individuals will perform above average, and some below. In other words, students were graded compared to each other, and not to absolute standards.

Fast forward to today, when grades are given  based on comparison to absolute standards (90-100 = A; 80-89 = B, etc.). While there are advantages and disadvantages to each system, the current system seems to have resulted in what is commonly referred to as grade inflation.

Grade Inflation Rampant on College Campuses
Grade inflation is a serious problem in colleges and universities, contends Thomas Lindsay in a new report for the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

The numbers are stark:

    In the first half of the 1960s, 15 percent of college grades were As.
    Today, 43 percent of all college grades are As.
    An A is the most common grade given in colleges across the country.
    Seventy-three percent of all college grades given today are As or Bs.
One of the unintended consequences of grade inflation is a shift from the so-called 'hard sciences' courses to the humanities.
According to Christopher Healey, professor at Furman University, the subject with the toughest grading standards is math, in which only 29 percent of grades are As. That number is much lower than in music, where 67 percent of grades are As, or in education, where 71 percent of grades are As. As a result, Lindsay writes that grade inflation pulls students towards classes in the humanities and away from classes in science and math.
It is worth pointing out that answers to math problems are objective: 2+2 = 4 is correct; 2+2 = anything else is wrong. Evaluating musical performances is much more subjective. I won't speculate on what the plethora of As in education courses means.

Another factor in grade inflation is that in the current environment, faculty promotions and raises are tied in part to student evaluations. Students, quite naturally, tend to prefer professors with lenient grading polices over those with tougher standards. This has predictable results on professors' grading policies.
Some schools have tried to bring transparency to student grading. As far back as 20 years ago, Dartmouth placed the median course grade and the class size on students' transcripts, next to the grade earned in each class, in response to the rise in the average GPA from 3.06 in 1968 to 3.23 in 1994. Even so, grades continued to rise at Dartmouth: by 1999, the number of As and A-minuses had reached 44 percent of all grades.
That's a typical academic solution. Rather than address the underlying problem, let's make the process more complicated.

In any event, every faculty meeting I ever went to at the beginning of a new school year involved at least one lengthy and heated discussion of grading and grade inflation. Of course, nothing was ever resolved.

And let's not neglect the outrage of students (and their parents!) who received a grade lower than they thought they deserved. The prevailing mindset is that a C is the minimum that should be awarded just for showing up. That's just one of many reasons why I don't miss teaching.


Bag Blog said...

In 1979 I took my first education course at SWTSU. About that same time, Texas Monthly put out an article on inflated grades, poor teachers, etc. from SWTSU, which had been considered a "teacher college." When I went to take my final, the prof told us that we could sign some paper, not take the final, and walk out with a B, no matter what your grade was going into the final. Only a handful of us stayed and took the final and our A. I figured they were trying to cut down on the number of A's given out.

Twenty years ago I was trying to get my homeschooled son into concurrent classes at NMU. The counselor said he would have to have a transcript. I said I could do that. Then the counselor freaked out saying that I could NOT write a transcript, because I might lie about my son's grades. I wanted to punch her in the nose for calling me a liar, but I realized she was just a idiot. We left. My son graduated in three years with honors from OSU and went on to get his masters. He is now a CPA.

Old NFO said...

Heh... Yeah, NOT like the old days... Profs 'I' had in college didn't play that game- You got what you deserved. Period...

CenTexTim said...

BB - I spent half a semester at SWTSU in 1971. I had too much fun and not enough money.

Later on when I was teaching, the best prepared students in my classes were home-schooled. The ones that struggled the most were from public schools.

NFO - We must have had the same professors.

XS3mdrvr said...

+1 what Old NFO said, and the world was a better Place for it.

CenTexTim said...

XS3 - agreed...