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Adjusting GPAs: A Statistician's Effort To Tackle Grade Inflation 264

Posted by samzenpus
from the precious-snowflakes dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A recent analysis of 200 colleges and universities published in the Teachers College Record found 43 percent of all letter grades awarded in 2008 were A's, compared to 16 percent in 1960. And Harvard's student paper recently reported the median grade awarded to undergraduates at the elite school is now an A-. A statistician at Duke tried to make a difference and stirred up a hornet's nest in the process."
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Adjusting GPAs: A Statistician's Effort To Tackle Grade Inflation

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  • Use Class Rank (Score:5, Interesting)

    by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Monday February 10, 2014 @04:11PM (#46212003)

    Ignore GPA.

    • It is hard to say how well that will work since there seem to be many people that have no class.

    • Re:Use Class Rank (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rritterson (588983) on Monday February 10, 2014 @04:23PM (#46212111)

      The essence of class rank is to compare the student to his/her peers instead of against a fixed measure whose bar can be raised/lowered.

      Class rank is problematic though, for a couple of reasons:
      -It doesn't make sense to compare GPAs across majors. The article points out that natural science professors already grade more stringently. Class rank across the entire university would only ensure natural science students looked poorly. (And vice versa for humanities students)
      -If your GPA is going to be directly compared against others as a measure of your talent, you have an extra incentive to find a way to take the classes offered by the professors who grade most easily, boosting your GPA and thus your class rank.

      We actually have a time-tested way of comparing students' performance to each other: grading on a curve. When I was in college (early 2000s, major American public university), all science and math courses were graded on curves, with 10-15% of the class getting As. Most professors had a minimum score that would guarantee a passing grade so that there wasn't a necessity to fail anyone, typically set to some percentage of the median Some students complained that they were doing well and learning the material, but are only getting Bs because of superstars in the course. To that, I say tough, because in the real world, no one is going to hire you to do anything just because you are good enough if another candidate is around who will do a better job than you will.

      Fortunately, my university's grading policies were well known enough by employers in my field, so that the relatively lower GPA were taken into account when recruiting. The best students had A's in about 2/3s of courses. Hardly anyone had a 4.0 in even a single semester, just because it's extraordinarily difficult to be in the top 15% in every subject and have any kind of regular life.

      • by Ichijo (607641)

        How is grading on a curve better than a strict percentile rank? Is there any benefit to the complexity it adds?

        • Yes. It keeps true to "C is average, B is above average, and A in excellent"
          • by Ichijo (607641)

            Like grading on a curve, the percentile rank also tells whether you are average or above average. In addition, it also tells you precisely where you rank in the class. It's more difficult to derive that information from a bell curve, approaching impossible if you don't know the frequency distribution.

            • No, it doesn't. If 80% of the class got an A, then that is wrong, as 80% should be getting a C.
              • by bondsbw (888959)

                Unfortunately grade inflation is a double-edged sword. You get higher grades for mediocre work, but now A is the new C. And any school that grades by the curve as you described will have fewer graduates get the job or college placement they deserve.

        • Grading on a curve is grading on a percentile rank. The curve merely defines which letter corresponds to which rank.
        • Re:Use Class Rank (Score:5, Interesting)

          by ComputerGeek01 (1182793) on Monday February 10, 2014 @05:55PM (#46213009)

          How is grading on a curve better than a strict percentile rank? Is there any benefit to the complexity it adds?

          Answer 1: It isn't. Answer 2: There is no benefit anywhere regardless of what you compare it against.

          Teachers who grade on a curve don't understand what a GPA is meant to represent. They are taking something that actually a representation of a students performance in a course (since the raw score is an average of their scores in assignments, tests and projects for the class) and they are trying to hammer it into some half-assed solution to compare students against one and other. They are saying "It doesn't matter how well you have demonstrated your understanding of the course material, or how well you've done in regards to the individual assessments that I myself assigned and evaluated. Instead of getting out from behind my desk and developing a system that reflects what I am trying to show here, I'm going to deprecate your grade until it suggests that you have a less then basic understanding of the material that was taught. Because that's just easier for me to do."

          Have any of these Gen X retards even considered the students who, despite knowing the material, will have to sign up for, pay for and hope to find an empty seat in a class all over again just because they didn't try hard enough to impress their narcissistic teacher? Probably not because that wouldn't be helpful in stroking their ego and making them feel more important in the world. What actually needs to happen is for teachers from all schools and disciplines need to sit down, STFU and realize that outside of the classroom they have no authority, nobody gives a damn about their opinion and that even those glowing recommendations that they wrote for their favorite students mean slightly less then whether or not the applicants socks match this morning. Their job is to teach and evaluate their students understanding of the material, that's it. It is not to try and decide if one student is better then another or if Little Bobby Tables needs to apply himself more. You want a way to compare potential employee's? It's called a fucking portfolio.

          • Teachers who grade on a curve don't understand what a GPA is meant to represent.

            Or they're choosing to use material that is more difficult than most of the students can handle, so the top students can better stand out with their mastery of the material. As a side benefit, it reminds the "A" students that however smart they think they are, they're still pretty dumb.

          • It is a fairly common idea in the ideology of many of those who run our education system that if you give students the ability to chose their professors or teachers, they will chose the best professors or teachers. The idea is to make education a marketable commodity with professors and teachers as service providers and students as consumers. There is a deep and fundamental flaw in this view. Markets are indeed extraordinarily good at satisfying consumer demand. The problem is that too many students are

      • Class rank is problematic though, for a couple of reasons: -It doesn't make sense to compare GPAs across majors. The article points out that natural science professors already grade more stringently. Class rank across the entire university would only ensure natural science students looked poorly. (And vice versa for humanities students)

        The easy fix for ranking is compare each to those within the program they belong. For example, only CS students would be ranked against other CS students. For that ranking only compare courses required by that degree, so those taking the humanities major vs those who take a math minor will be ranked the same. Double major? Double ranking, one for each major.

        As for actual grading each course, I like the idea that one of my professors used. He graded each assignment & test with no curve, and only gav

        • by Ichijo (607641)
          A ranked pairs method such as Condorcet [wikipedia.org] would help make it possible to compare students across majors. Each class (a unique course taught by a unique teacher) is a ballot, each teacher is a voter, and each student is a candidate. The teacher ranks the students from best to worst on the "ballot." Then a computer runs the "election" to put all the students in the school in order from best to worst. This will work as long as there's some overlap in classes across majors, because it's how students perform in th
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            So your method is going to rank math majors against linguists based, ultimately, on which group is better at the History of Art?

            • by Ichijo (607641)

              No, it would be based on which group is better at the general education courses.

              If that still isn't enough, the students' SAT and ACT scores could also act as two additional ballots for the "election."

            • by bondsbw (888959)

              I have to agree with the AC. This method would give higher scores to "jack of all trades, master of none" than to those who are especially gifted at certain areas but uninterested in others. That's not to say that it should necessarily be the opposite either; both types of person are important in the world.

              But more importantly, why do we feel we must compare math majors with French majors? They have little to do with each other. Even if a few candidates were trying to get a job where both skill sets wer

      • Not to mention class rank is heavily influenced by the size of the class and breaks down in small courses/schools/etc. If you go by a single course, you could be ranked #6 and still be at the bottom of your class. Alternatively, you could be in the bottom 25%, but have a 99% average. The real problem, like credit scores, is trying to reduce a complex issue with many variables that are completely out of your control and cram it into a single number that supposedly describes you.

      • That sounds like a terrible idea. I took a linear algebra class for programmers (it was run by the math department, but it wasn't a part of their curriculum) and for some odd reason there were 2 senior-level math majors in the class (probably for an easy A for them). They basically dominated the lectures and pushed things too much including the curve. We had a 1st year professor and he would often make assumptions on class progress based on his interactions with them (and I'd spoken with him maybe 5 tim

      • by pruss (246395)

        It's hard to do this in small upper level classes, though, unless one uses statistics from multiple years, which may be unfair due to changes in course content or in teaching methodology.

      • Re:Use Class Rank (Score:5, Interesting)

        by wanax (46819) on Monday February 10, 2014 @05:18PM (#46212671)

        Grading on a curve only works for large, introductory courses. The problem is two fold 1) smaller classes cannot be assumed to have a normal distribution and 2) Once you get past intro classes in any subject, there is a strong selection bias so that people in upper level classes all tend to be high level performers in that subject (which also means you can't assume a normal distribution).

        The big problem with grades is that they conflate course difficulty and student performance. If you want grades to be a proxy for performance, you have to weight them somehow or other by class difficulty. The problem is nobody can agree on how to rank class difficulty due to academic politics, since nobody wants to be the department that gets the short-end of the stick with class difficulty rankings. In my personal experience, being one of the few people who have taken multiple graduate level classes in 3 disciplines (History, Mathematics and Neuroscience) at that level no field is particularly easier or harder than another, it's just that the type of work one does is very different.

        The other issue that I rarely see addressed in all of the 'grade inflation' concern (and which class rank also ignores) is that maybe today's college students are actually working a lot harder than those in 1960 (perhaps due to debt, the weak economy, lack of security from getting a degree etc), and have actually earned a big chunk of the upward grade adjustment. That's certainly been my experience when compared to my own cohort, and that of quite a few professors that I talk to as well.

        • Re:Use Class Rank (Score:5, Insightful)

          by unrtst (777550) on Monday February 10, 2014 @05:49PM (#46212971)

          The big problem with grades is that they conflate course difficulty and student performance.

          IMO, there's also another glaring flaw in Johnson's premise that students gave better student evaluations of teachers who graded more leniently. There is a HUGE assumption there that the various teachers running the same classes were all equal in their quality of teaching. Why is it so difficult to believe that some teacher was able to reach and educate more of his students than someone else?

          Statistically, I understand there should be some sort of even distribution, but the sample size (in number of teachers per course) is not large enough to be of statistical value.

          Johnson said, “As you might expect, the effect of either expected course grade or received course grade is very powerful in student evaluations of teaching. If a student was getting a C in a course, he or she was very unlikely to rate the instructor highly. If they were getting an A in the course, they’re more likely to rate the instructor highly. I think this provides quantitative evidence for something most instructors know: If they grade easier, they will tend to get better course evaluations.”

          One year, I had an art history teacher whose class was at 7:30am, in a dark lecture room, with a dim projector on the whole time, and spoke through an ancient 3" amplified speaker with an voice that was already monotone and droned on and on and on. I got a D-. The next year, I did more research on the available teachers, and found the one that engaged the most and who had more people getting higher grades. He was fun, taught in a well lit class in mid-day, involved us in projects to learn (ex.create an interactive presentation of some artist with a group of other students for homework, as opposed to filling in the blanks on a test in a dim room with projected images), and I got an A+, go figure.

          I'll admit his tests were slightly easier (fewer exact date type questions (what year was this created, versus during what time period), multiple choice on name questions, rather than having to fill it in spelled perfectly, etc), but I also learned a LOT more, and neither graded on a curve.

          I also take some offense to applying various curves or rankings etc to students. Given a class of 30 people, it's almost guaranteed that you'll have some years where half the class are "A" students, and some years where there's hardly a one, and that's assuming that the teaching and material are equal.

          Overall, I'd agree that there is grade inflation. Jacking with the grades isn't going to fix all the underlying problems, and it will create other problems. He notes that one of the most likely reasons are student evaluations - so untie those from teacher review (instead, to review a teacher, do so as one should for reviewing any employee... go watch them while they're actually working, and only use the reported figures to identify people that should be reviewed first or may need help).

          • by EvanED (569694)

            IMO, there's also another glaring flaw in Johnson's premise that students gave better student evaluations of teachers who graded more leniently. There is a HUGE assumption there that the various teachers running the same classes were all equal in their quality of teaching. Why is it so difficult to believe that some teacher was able to reach and educate more of his students than someone else?

            I can't speak to that, but I will share another "student evaluations somewhat incentivize the wrong things" bit I've

        • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

          by Belial6 (794905)
          I can't say definitively one way or the other, but what I do see is that I periodically take my son to Starbucks for a change of scenery in his school day (we homeschool), and the work that the local college students are doing is only slightly more advanced than what my 9 year old is doing.

          My distinct impression is that most colleges have gone the paper mill route for most of their courses. The only difference between the traditional colleges and the what generally get classified as paper mills seems to
        • by PRMan (959735)

          All the long-time professors that I talk to, including one I had who is still teaching 20-some-odd years later and my uncle who recently retired say that students are getting dumber every year. There's no denying that their selective memory only remembers the best students, but they report being completely unable to have the sorts of class discussions that they used to have only 10-20 years ago. And they can tell students exactly what will be on the test including the exact question in statement form and

        • Re:Use Class Rank (Score:4, Insightful)

          by supercrisp (936036) on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @08:19AM (#46216519)
          In my experience (just over 20 years teaching English courses), students in the first two years of college are horrible now compared to 10-15 years ago. At upper levels, students are indeed working much harder. But part of the harder work is a lot of flailing around because most bright students have never had to study, organize, research, or any of the basic scholarly skills. School has just been so easy. ---- I'm reluctant to address grade inflation on slashdot because so much of the discussion on teaching here is from only the student perspective, and typically from disaffected students who see education as some sort of market exchange. It's got a much older set of models, and that complicates the hell out of things. For reasons good and bad, faculty tend hang onto some Medieval ideas like mentoring, patronage, whipping people into shape, and separating wheat from chaff. As I said, good and bad reasons. ---- But major influences on grades just don't come up in these discussions, so I'll offer two: retention and rehiring. Administrators and evaluating bodies continually yell "retention." What can you do if all your students suck because they're getting shit for a high school education? Dumb down the classes and pass them. Or don't, and your department suffers. Or you do. That brings me to rehiring. Many classes, right on up to the senior level are now taught by "contingent" faculty--the majority of faculty now are contingent. Nontenured. Rehired year by year. If you're contingent, you'd better listen when someone howls retention. And you'd better make damn sure that little Pauly Privileged doesn't go running to your chair bawling because he got a C for his paper copied from Wikipedia. Better give that brat a B so that you can keep paying your student loans. Presto! Grade inflation. ---- There are other reasons. And I know everyone here is super brilliant and earned those A grades.
      • Re:Use Class Rank (Score:4, Insightful)

        by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Monday February 10, 2014 @05:21PM (#46212701)

        We actually have a time-tested way of comparing students' performance to each other: grading on a curve.

        That only works when MULTIPLE RANDOM items are compared. Such as rolling 3d6.

        Since answering questions on a test should NOT be random there should not be any reason to attempt to force the scores into a curve.

        When I was in college (early 2000s, major American public university), all science and math courses were graded on curves, with 10-15% of the class getting As.

        I started college in 1983. The grades were based upon how many questions you answered correctly. It did not matter what other students answered. Why would it?

        Some students complained that they were doing well and learning the material, but are only getting Bs because of superstars in the course. To that, I say tough, because in the real world, no one is going to hire you to do anything just because you are good enough if another candidate is around who will do a better job than you will.

        By that logic, a "B" student in one class could be an "A" student in the same class with the same professor on the same material with the same answers ... but in a different semester/quarter.

        Which means that the smart students will learn to "game" the system.

        • by AK Marc (707885)

          The grades were based upon how many questions you answered correctly. It did not matter what other students answered. Why would it?

          I've taken a test where the average grade was 23%. You are seriously arguing that the problem with that is that all the students failed, and not that the teacher gave a test harder than warranted?

      • > Some students complained that they were doing well and learning the material, but are only getting Bs because of superstars in the course. To that, I say tough, because in the real world,

        How is the hell is that fair to steal a legitimate grade from people who earned it simply because you want the grade to be Relative to others?!?!
        The WHOLE point of a grading system is to have an Absolute measurement system!

        That is you, 50% means you only know 50% of the material. A 100% means you know 100% of the sub

        • Please mod parent up. (It is a rant, but it is a rant that hits the nail on the head.)

          Curves are a means for teachers to avoid explaining to anyone what is required to earn a particular grade. So they hide behind their aura of authority and cook up a post hoc rationalization.

      • Yes, class rank is problematic, however as this article points out so is GPA.

        When I was an engineering student some 25 years ago the engineering school Valedictorian had a 3.4 GPA. A C was the the average grade. A's were hard to get.

        Now the top 10% of the class has a 4.0 GPA.

        Since recruiters are looking for a particular skill set they aren't going to be comparing Applied Physics majors to Art History majors.

        Your second objection applies regardless of whether class ranking or GPA is used.

        If schools had a con

      • Fortunately, my university's grading policies were well known enough by employers in my field, so that the relatively lower GPA were taken into account when recruiting.

        And we have the problem right there. I graduated from a uni like yours*, and like your example the businesses in the area take that kind of thing in question. The problem is for anyone who doesn't want to work in the same area. Unless the school is well known, the recruiter will take one look at your GPA and your application goes in the trash. Hell, some companies require you to apply online. I doubt the system ever even lets a human see the application if your GPA is below a certain number.

        *Well, at l

      • by PRMan (959735)

        I taught Pascal programming at a university as an adjunct professor. I had 7-8 students in my class at a time. There was nobody to fail because they each semester they mastered the material well enough for at least 5-6 students to get A's in the class. They wrote programs that worked and accomplished the stated goals and they turned in their homework and did well on tests.

        So I'm supposed to arbitrarily fail somebody that succeeded just to match some inane curve? No, I taught them a difficult subject an

    • Ignore both GPA AND Class Rank. Let the graduation schools apply entry tests. Problem solved.
  • Anyone happen to have a source to the recent analysis (at least the numbers)? I want to see if they have information on majors, etc. The original article is here: http://www.tcrecord.org/conten... [tcrecord.org] but it's behind a paywall. I've noticed that in my university, computer science/engineering majors average in the C range simply because the courses are intended to be difficult.
    • My institution does not seem to have access to a digital version of the above linked paper. If anyone else has institutional access and can get a digital copy, I, too, would like to see it.
  • by HellCatF6 (1824178) <HellCatF6@gmail.com> on Monday February 10, 2014 @04:14PM (#46212023) Homepage

    Teaching as a discipline is one of many social sciences,
    but since it's not a true science, there is no pressure to
    create quantitative measures for any of their components.
    No rigor, no quant, and you leave it up to individual motivations
    as the driving forces.
    Result, as the article states, easier classes mean higher grades.
    Higher grades means better teacher evaluations.
    Better evaluations means easier job and more money.
    Result - grade inflation.
    It seems obvious now, so we shouldn't be surprised.
    The real question should be this: when can we expect the bubble to burst?

    • by fermion (181285)
      Like all social sciences it is fake science because it nearly impossible, if not unethical, to create the lab conditions as we do in real science. Each student is an individual and cannot, probably should not, be treated as an interchangeable cog. So one cannot just write a procedure, or curriculum, and say that if everyone does exactly this, reading from this script, giving these tests, and failing a statistically satisfactory number of students that education will be achieved.

      With cogs I know exactly

  • Filler / fluff classes should be pass / fail or have there own GPA.

    Maybe also give the gen EUD's there own GPA as well.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by jratcliffe (208809)

      Filler / fluff classes should be pass / fail or have there own GPA.

      Maybe also give the gen EUD's there own GPA as well.

      I presume you regard English 101 as a filler/fluff class, then.

    • Which classes are the filler and fluff, and which classes are real classes? Who makes that decision? A better solution might be to track a person's major GPA separately from their total combined GPA (many graduate schools ask for this, anyway).
    • My filler/fluff class dragged down my GPA due to an incompetent professor. He insisted that homework assignments be emailed to him, but neglected to tell me that he wasn't getting my emails (in spite of the read receipts) until after grading was finalized and submitted. The result was that I received no credit for homework, which changed my course grade from an A to a C. Fortunately, that course only counted for 3 of 137 credit hours and had a nearly negligible effect on my final GPA.

      The real problem is tha

  • by CastrTroy (595695) on Monday February 10, 2014 @04:16PM (#46212045) Homepage
    I would rather have a large number of people get A's, and just have people realize that there are limits to what can and should be tested in school. Either the test is made so hard that only a small percentage of the students are able to answer all the questions, thereby making the median grade a C, or we must accept that it's possible that a high percentage of the class will learn everything they were supposed to learn from the class, and therefore receive an A. The purpose of school isn't to differentiate between who are the elite and who are the median, but whether to certify that you learned whatever it was they were supposed to be learning. I know people who have had teachers tell them they won't give out any A's, which ends up being because it's an easy course, and they don't want all the marks to end up being A, because it looks bad, and would rather just give the entire class low marks.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Max Threshold (540114)

      "The purpose of school isn't to differentiate between who are the elite and who are the median . . ."

      Yes, it is.

      • I'm also often amazed how people miss this rather obvious point. So much of education IS to differentiate students. I wouldn't say it's the whole of it, but it's a very big part of how our society operates.

        Who gets into med school?
        Who gets into law school?
        How do you justify some jobs getting paid more than others in areas that are not ruled by the free market (governement jobs, professions...)
        Who gets some great grad school spot
        Who gets a professional job after graduation?
        Who gets the high end law articling

    • by Rich0 (548339)

      The purpose of school isn't to differentiate between who are the elite and who are the median, but whether to certify that you learned whatever it was they were supposed to be learning.

      The only reason employers look at grades is to judge who is elite and who are the median.

      When you get 400 applicants for a job, chances are that 350 of them can do the job. The employer wants the best person for the job, in the hopes that they will do the job better than whoever their competitor hires and give them an advantage.

      Saying that colleges shouldn't give out grades is like saying that amazon shouldn't post prices on their website. Instead you should tell them how much you have in their bank accou

      • by khasim (1285)

        The only reason employers look at grades is to judge who is elite and who are the median.

        Let me change that a bit.

        The only reason employers look at grades is because you are applying for your first job and you have not built a portfolio sufficient for the hiring process.

        Once you have your first job no one cares about your grades.

        • by Kjella (173770)

          Let me change that a bit. The only reason employers look at grades is because you are applying for your first job and you have not built a portfolio sufficient for the hiring process. Once you have your first job no one cares about your grades.

          In what world do most employees except graphics designers and hair dressers end up with a "portfolio" of work they can show? Working on client systems as a consultant or working deep in the bowels of various internal systems there's nothing I'm allowed to take with me nor that would make much sense on its own. What I have is a list of reputable companies with good reference letters, managers and colleagues who'll vouch for me and of course I'll take any test they'd like me to take. Still, many get good refe

          • by khasim (1285)

            In what world do most employees except graphics designers and hair dressers end up with a "portfolio" of work they can show?

            If you're a programmer then your portfolio is the Open Source projects that you've contributed to.

            I've had employers take positive note of it 7 years after I graduated and I'm sure it still supports and gives credibility to my more recent work history.

            You're confusing "degree" with "GPA". Having a degree is a positive achievement. But once you get your first job you will not have to ex

          • even graphics designers may be at times under some kind of NDA so they can't show all of there work.

    • need to make it so test cramming not = better grade.

      You don't want to have tests that are tilted so that people who know what they doing can get lower scores then people who are good at cramming.

      Also more tests need to be open book / notes / maybe even open Google.

  • research. This teaching stuff just gets in their way, so why not just give them an A?

    Not all profs do that, of course. I've been a teaching assistant for good and bad profs. However, many bad profs really do operate that way. I think the real solution is to give profs the option not to teach and to hire reasonably-compensated adjuncts instead. They could be professional teachers, whereas professors are professional researchers and, normally, amatuer teachers.

    Of course, that would cost money, so don't hold y

  • There have been lots of articles about employee performance reviews and the "stack rank" system. Pretty much everything that has been learned about employee performance reviews can apply to students, particularly in higher education.

    Companies like to use performance reviews when adjusting compensation, and they also like to have a system that encourages employee development (or at least retention and advancement of the better employees, and hopefully helping other employees become "better" employees). Per

    • I had a CS professor do something similar to this for his assignments. For each assignment he gave us a URL to submit our code to. Then he used some automated scripts to compile & run the code against his test sets & we would either get a pass or fail, based on a diff of his results to ours(any difference & it was a fail). We could submit our code as many times as we wanted up until the due date. At that point we lost 15%, but could repeat the process up until a 2nd due date at which we lost
  • It would be interesting to grade students in the following way:
    For assignments and tests, grade the assignments as usual but don't let the students see the actual mark until the end.
    Instead, give them a "credit / no credit" assessment for each item, coupled with feedback / answer sheets / group review.
    At the end of the year, students will receive a final grade based on the value of all the assignments. This could eliminate some of the pressure that professors feel from students who are constantly badgering

    • by plover (150551)

      I have found there are a lot of students on the ragged edge of a grade, with only a point or two separating them from a letter grade difference. If that student is told one week before finals "you have 89.9%, you are two points shy of an A", they will go whining to the prof asking about some minor detail on the first week's homework. I promise you the prof isn't going to remember the details from a homework assignment he graded 8 weeks ago. Multiply that question by every third student in the class, and

    • by PRMan (959735)
      I had a student (who had straight A's in college, BTW) constantly missing my class. She didn't do about half her homework and did poorly on tests. At the end of the semester, she and her advisor (chair of the business department) came to me (an adjunct professor) with unbelievable pressure to change her grade to an A. Despite the fact that I posted percentages and letter grades every single class session, and she knew she was getting a C for months. Since she missed 9 class sessions (school rules allowe
  • For many years professors in natural sciences have been adjusting test scores to match Gaussian distribution.
    Typically, you decide on the average and then adjust the shape accordingly.


    Most professors would go for a 12 points (60%) out of 20 average and a standard deviation of around 3 points (15%). Every student below 10 points (50%) would fail the class.
    After that, you rank the questions from easy to hard, according to the scores obtained for each.
    Initially, you a award the same weight for each que
  • by edremy (36408) on Monday February 10, 2014 @04:39PM (#46212275) Journal
    Students love grade inflation because they love getting A's

    Faculty love grade inflation because they spend less time dealing with pissed off students and helicopter parents

    Administration likes grade inflation because it means fewer people drop out, which is good for the bottom line. More degrees with honors sounds great too.

    All we need to do is fix students, faculty and the administration and we can solve this problem right away.....

    • by i.r.id10t (595143) on Monday February 10, 2014 @04:56PM (#46212467)

      I recall an article I read 10-12 years ago about grade inflation, and how it really started in the 60s as a way for the "liberal" professors to help keep kids out of the draft for the Viet Nam War. High GPA (3.0 or higher IIRC) let the students keep their draft deferrments, so a lot of instructors were happy to fudge the numbers upwards just a tad.

    • by wulfhere (94308)

      Man, oh man, if only I had mod points. Insightful, people!

    • There is no feedback loop from employers. They are the only one who cares about grade inflation. Employers could create an organization that adjusts colleges grades based on the testing and evaluation of new hires. This organization would then publish the GPA adjustment for each School Degree combination. This would not effect history majors though. Walmart doesn't care if you made A's or B's.
    • One of the nice thing about teaching at a college or university is that the faculty don't have to deal with helicopter parents. Parents can call all they want, and all they should ever hears is "I'm sorry, but it would be a violation of students' FERPA rights for me to divulge any information to you." Pissy students are another matter entirely.
  • Really, I've been proposing that each GPA be presented with the average GPA for students taking the same class sections. For some students, a 3.5 would be weak (if the average student got a 3.9). For others, it might be outstanding (if the average was a 3.2).

    This also makes it more likely that students will take courses with challenging grades. If all a professor gives is A's I can't raise my effective GPA. But, a professor that gives a C+ average gives me the opportunity to decrease my denominator.
  • Granted this isn't college, but New York state tackled "grade inflation" by giving students tests that weren't developmentally appropriate and based on curriculum they hadn't been taught. The result was that only about 30% of students passed. The bonus was that State Ed and the governor could then point to those tests as further proof that teachers are failing our students and 1) we need to have more of these tests to assess their performance and 2) teachers should be bound by EngageNY curriculum which li

  • When I taught undergraduate engineering courses at a state university, I always had large classes (> 80 students), so I decided to let the law of large numbers work to my advantage. I would grade each student's work with a numerical score, and would then find the median and standard deviation of the scores for each class. The median I defined to be the threshold between "C" and "B". One standard deviation above the median became the threshold between "B" and "A", and one standard deviation below the m

    • It should be noted that your scheme really is very arbitrary. I'm glad it worked out for you, but mixing medians and standard deviations simply don't make any kind of statistical sense. The IQR (inter-quartile range) would probably be a better measure of spread if you are going to use the median as a measure of center. One should also note that your scheme is biased in favor of As over Fs. Perhaps that is what you intend, though I personally prefer that the median correspond to the center of the C range

      • by dtmos (447842) *

        The IQR (inter-quartile range) would probably be a better measure of spread if you are going to use the median as a measure of center.

        To be sure. The difficulty with IQR is that the average college sophomore has no idea what it is. I actually tried this one semester, and ended up having to teach statistics one-by-one to each student that came in complaining about his grade. It was easier, and took less of my time, to use a system that had less technical validity, but used terms with which the students we

  • by ralatalo (673742) on Monday February 10, 2014 @05:01PM (#46212525)

    There is a basic point missing in that expected grade distribution is very much dependent upon if you are trying to teach a subject to mastery or teach a subject the students limits of understanding. Ie. what is your philosophy of education?

    If you are teaching a class covering a subject which can be mastered, then there is no reason everyone should not master the material and get an 100% baring lazyness.

    An example would be written test for a drivers license, is there really any reason everyone who takes it should not get 100%?

    If you are teaching to a scale, then you don't really care how much absolute material is transferred and your tests are designed to not to measure the material taught in the class as much as then general subject matter which the class covers, and they are designed to test the level of understanding of the subject as a whole with an emphasis on trying to prevent anyone from mastering the test.

    Most of your Engineering classes.

  • From the experience of someone who has worked in both K-12 and higher education, the problem is innate to the competitive access to higher education and the roots are way deeper than 4-year research universities.

    Elementary Schools (grades K-6)
    Elementary schools have not been well known for their grade inflation. They are held to stronger minimum student competency standards that allow them to get away with giving a kid an "N" (needs improvement, aka: Fail).

    Middle School (grades 7-8)
    Grade inflation starts in

  • It's not about how you set the evaluations or set the scores. It's not even about what your GPA is. No matter how you attempt to fix the system, it will be gamed to maximize personal outcomes by individuals - be they teachers or students.

    And, lets face it, in the end it really doesn't matter whether you got a 4.0 or a 3.5 or a 3.0. The real question is did you learn and remember the material. But there are relatively few standardized tests for that in each discipline, and even if there were it would miss a

  • Although I do think grades are given out too easily these days, particularly in that they signify "effort" more than actual knowledge due to the sheer amount of makeup work and extra credit available, I also think students are just more exposed to sources of knowledge today than they were 60 years ago. In the 60's, knowing something meant you had to take advantage of the few resources available to you, such as teachers or library books.

    Today, people can not only find information about various topics quickl

  • 1. Curve grading only makes sense if each class has its own curve; otherwise its biased towards easier classes and lenient instructors.
    2. A class can be so small that individual students have a significant impact on the score. That means students have very little incentive to cooperate in their studies, and may even have an incentive to sabotage each other. That does not make for a productive educational environment.

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