Monday, January 19, 2015

Grade inflation

A chemistry lecture hall at University of Texas.

"A 2013 study conducted by the University of North Texas’s Department of Economics might help explain the forces behind recent grade inflation, suggesting that several key players could be responsible for the overall trends. For one, the study shows that classes in certain subject areas are more prone to inflation than others. English, music, and speech courses experienced higher rates of inflation compared to those in math and chemistry, for example.   

Class size also appears to be a factor. One theory is that departments with smaller student-faculty ratios have a greater tendency to exaggerate grades because those instructors have less job security than their colleagues in larger-scale college divisions...[In my experience, grades are higher with smaller sections because students feel that the spotlight is on them and so produce their best work.]
The instructor’s gender could be a factor, too: Inflation is much higher among female educators than it is among their male counterparts. [Ironic that women are easier graders but still get worse student evaluations.]
Meanwhile, student evaluations could incentivize instructors to give their pupils higher grades than they deserve in an effort to “buy” higher evaluation scores, the study says. [So tenured faculty should grade harder than non-tenured faculty. I wonder if that is what the data show?]
Whatever the cause, an analysis of average test scores—as well as literacy levels—over time confirms that rising GPAs are not a reflection of increasing academic achievement. Though standardized exams are certainly flawed measurements of intelligence, comparing trends in scoring with those in grades is revealing: Unlike average GPAs overall test scores have remained relatively steady over time, demonstrating that the grade inflation is artificial. Graduate literacy has also kept constant; the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy found that average literacy hasn’t changed since 1992." [SAT scores are stable but GPAs are rising.]

The article's conclusion is great:

We’re not in an era of strong, moral ethical leadership in higher education,” Rojstaczer said, “Leaders are obsessed with national reputation and the size of their endowment and not very concerned about the quality of education.”

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