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Math Education

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

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 @03:11PM (#46212003)

    Ignore GPA.

  • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Monday February 10, 2014 @03:16PM (#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.
  • by SJHillman ( 1966756 ) on Monday February 10, 2014 @03:51PM (#46212413)

    I graduated high school in 2006 and got my Bachelors in 2009. College admission was, and still is, the only thing that even gave half a flying fuck about my High School GPA. Grad school admissions have been the only thing to give a half-flying fuck about my undergrad GPA (and even then, as long as it meets their minimum requirement, they don't much care). Employers have mostly only cared about whether or not I did graduate. I've seen a number of (accredited) graduate schools that only assign pass/fail to courses and don't do GPAs at all. For the most part, your GPA is like your SAT score... it's relevant for a very short time frame afterwards and for a very small number of situations (mostly admissions and scholarships) and nobody gives a flying fuck after that.

  • by i.r.id10t ( 595143 ) on Monday February 10, 2014 @03:56PM (#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 ralatalo ( 673742 ) on Monday February 10, 2014 @04:01PM (#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.

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

    by wanax ( 46819 ) on Monday February 10, 2014 @04:18PM (#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, Interesting)

    by ComputerGeek01 ( 1182793 ) on Monday February 10, 2014 @04:55PM (#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.

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

    by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Monday February 10, 2014 @05:04PM (#46213077)

    Good point

    No, not so good. Class rank favors those that took easy classes, and those that went to bad schools with lots of dumb classmates.

    Here is a better solution: Test for the actual skill you need. If you are hiring someone to write C code, then give them a programming task that they should be able to finish in an hour. If you are hiring someone to dig ditches, hand them a shovel, and see how much dirt they can toss out of a hole in 20 minutes.

    Number of times anyone has ever asked for my high school GPA: 1 (the college I attended)
    Number of times anyone has ever asked for my college GPA: 0

The first time, it's a KLUDGE! The second, a trick. Later, it's a well-established technique! -- Mike Broido, Intermetrics