Guest Blogger: Katie Luther

Grade Inflation as a Threat to Students and Universities?

Evaluating students through grades has long been a universally accepted role of teachers and professors. In this respect grades are commonly seen as an “objective – though not perfect – index of the degree of academic mastery of a subject”. At the same time, grading along with universities in general have undergone great changes since World War II due to an increase of students, economic pressure and competition between institutions of higher education. As a result of these changes, the notion of grade inflation emerged. Grade inflation represents a rise in the grade point average (GPA) of students during a period of time “without a corresponding increase in student achievement”.

The article “Evaluation and the Academy: Are We Doing the Right Thing?” by Henry Rosovsky, a former Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, and Matthew Hartley, an Assistant Professor at the Graduate School of Education of the University of Pennsylvania, referred to such a severe rise in students’ GPAs during a period of thirty years. Accordingly, the GPA at any kind of institution of higher education in the USA has shown a nearly 15-20 percent rise from the mid-1960s through the mid-1990s due to the notion of grade inflation. For this reason, a critical debate about the drawbacks of grade inflation, a system which fears objectivity (I know we have all learned that “objectivity” does not as such exist, but let’s give it a try), at US colleges and universities should be essential for any society. Especially Since grade inflation embodies a threat for students, their ambitions regarding learning, and for the reputation of universities because it creates an illusion concerning any educational standards.

I mean, does grade inflation not lead to an unjust grading of personal achievement as well as to endangering the original spirit of “education, truth and virtue” of universities, leaving the impression that universities and students would be unambiguously better off with an honest and open grading policy?

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5 thoughts on “Guest Blogger: Katie Luther

  1. Isaias says:

    Lets all be honest here… Who would ever want to get graded? Its because of grades that people go through stress and then commit suicide. Students want to perform well in order to make their parents proud, stay in school, or receive scholarship money. if we collectively came to the conclusion that a GPA is the cause of all stress maybe this would be a better world. I personally believe its not what you know its who you know and what you know will keep you there. Everyone at any school dreads when midterms and finals arrive. Then, when we go on break we are sooo happy that we have a vacation from school. I understand that school is essential believe me I know. But grades and test sometimes get a little ridiculous. Some people can be smart as ever but dont do well under pressure. so why should they suffer just because he or she doesn’t do well when they have an exam???

  2. Emily D'Addario says:

    Endangering the original spirit of “education, truth and virtue” has become a serious concern among high school classrooms and colleges across the United States. The issue is that learning has become secondary to grading. Beginning in elementary school, our academic progress was measured on our ability to achieve “A’s” while avoiding the dreaded “F.” We are all aware of the drawbacks to the traditional testing style, where students cram and memorize, rather than focus on learning the material. What can we do to prevent this? Traditions of this type will be nearly impossible to break free of. They have existed for far too long and have become the norm in our culture. Before we will be able to witness transformations of entire school systems, we should start with the policies of teachers.

    We need teachers that make it acceptable to think beyond the structured curriculum. An ideal teacher will produce healthy children whose lives are not spoiled by the fear of learning in a school setting. They will give students enough freedom but not too much as to be taken advantage of and will challenge them in the most subtle way but enough to prepare them for the world beyond school. As responsible, dedicated leaders, they will lay out their own ideas, share their values, and then put their students in a position to make a choice. Students will in turn, more willingly recognize and take advantage of the advice these teachers impart. I think a change in the method of rubric driven teaching could have a significant influence on the lofty emphasis placed on grades today.

    This post also got me thinking about gender roles in the classroom and the affect that they can have on students. Gender differences seem to take place in teaching at an unconscious level. From nursery school to high school, female teachers give more attention to male students, encouraging them to participate and be active learners. Girls are less likely to receive praise and more likely to be left on their own. The teaching style of men tends to be more authoritative while women make their classrooms more comfortable and student oriented. These are just a few of the many different sexist behaviors I’ve noticed that occur in the average learning environment.

  3. Emily Clemetson says:

    Grade inflation is definitely a huge problem in college.
    There are professors who grade on curves or who scale scores but then there are also professors who believe that there should be a student in the class that receives a failing grade and at least one that receives a near perfect, if not perfect grade. And then there are those professors that simply don’t think a single student deserves to get an A and so the highest grade a student can receive is a B+.
    What student doesn’t want their test scores curved or scaled so that they end up doing better than if their grade were left untouched? I can’t think of anyone that would rather take a lower grade.
    There is one problem, however, with grade inflation. When a college gets ridiculed for inflating grades the incoming students are the ones to suffer.
    Take for example some of the Ivy League schools who are known for their grade inflation over the years. Colleges such as Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts are extremely concerned with keeping grade inflation in check since they don’t want to get the ridicule and reputation that some of the Ivy Leagues have gotten. They have taken extreme measures to avoid this reputation. In fact they’ve gone as far as to use a grade deflation policy.
    Other colleges that have gotten the reputation of deflating grades include Princeton and Reed.
    Does grade deflation have a significant impact on post-undergraduate placement?

  4. Katharina Luther says:

    Of course, nobody would take the worse grade for the better. I cannot blame them; I would probably do the same. We have been trained to always strive after the highest and best, including striving after the best grade possible.

    I believe that the inflation of grades really represents a huge problem for grad schools and future employers. It is not like they are not aware of the fact that grades have been rising for years without always meeting a rise in student’s achievement. This may cause graduate institutions to take on own measures of evaluating the potential of their prospective future student through additional testing and checking references. This could clearly indicate the mistrust in the valuations which are being carried out by colleges and universities. And who could blame them?

    Another thing to keep in mind: Should a university or a college not actually be a place where you can deepen your personal and academic interests and passions in any field? Is that not the reason why we all came here? – To broaden our horizons and to have fun learning more about writing, biology or the arts? Do you think that inflated grades then could possibly discourage that idea and lower the motivation of students?

  5. Emily D'Addario says:

    The question continuing to circulate here is whether grade inflation discourages the joy of learning and lowers the motivation of students. I recently stumbled upon a unique school that exemplifies an original alternative “free” motto. A.S. Neil’s Summerhill School was established in England in 1921 as a co-educational boarding school. Today, it represents a universal model for progressive education as it continues to be one of the most radical institutions in the world. At Summerhill, the grading system is of little importance while learning is the primary focus.

    As I read more about the education provided at this school, I couldn’t help but think of Harry Potter. Summerhill and Hogwarts have a strong correlation in that there is ample time for play, room for freedom, and no pressures to truly compete or conform. The ideas seem positive and the methods seem harmless, but the overall goals of Summerhill appear extreme and far-fetched. I can’t imagine the establishment of such a school like this up and running in the US today because I haven’t grasped the realism of such a place. In the competitive school environment in which I have been raised, playing all day and skipping a night’s homework assignment would be deemed unacceptable.

    Although a democratic system where students have unlimited freedom and choice seems so fake, the democratic school movement is beginning to thrive world-wide. I still wonder if it would be possible to implement a school like Sumerhill in the US. We have our handful of private and boarding schools, but nothing as unconventional as Summerhill. People would be quick to oppose A.S. Neil’s beliefs regarding such a happy, loving, free setting. There would be concerns that the lack of strict rules and loose grading would not adequately prepare children for the “real world.” How will we ever know the best way to educate our future generations? Living in a democratic society where problems are aired in school meetings gives the students a strong sense of justice as well as an ability to listen to and understand other’s perspectives. This is just one way Summerhill prepares their students for interactions in the world beyond school. Maybe someday we will follow their lead for a more progressive education system less contingent on test scores.

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