Higher grades, same performance

Nieuws | de redactie
1 augustus 2011 | 43% of U.S. students receive top grade A, researchers show. A number of colleges have increased grade average in retrospect to better prepare their students for the job market.

A new study by two American researchers indicates that the bestgrade achievable for students has also become the most common one.Data from a variety of 200 colleges and universities between 1940and 2009 shows that 43% of all students receive As for theiroverall course grade.

In the U.S., course grades are given on a scale from A to F.These letter grades are later translated into the Grade PointAverage (G.P.A.) ranging from 0 to a maximum of 4. This system isquite popular internationally and also under consideration by agroup of maverick British universities.

Excellence or grade inflation?

The data now published triggered a number of questions regardingthe state of higher education in America. Do U.S. students simplyexcel in all possible disciplines? Or have professors started todeliberately give higher grades over the years?

Such a trend is often referred to as grade inflation. Gradeinflation describes the phenomenon that a higher grade is awardedfor a certain performance that would have received a lower grade inthe past.

The research conducted by Stuart Rojstaczer (Duke University)and Christopher Healy (Furman University) gave evidence for thisphenomenon indicating that since 1960 grades have increased by 28%.While this sounds rather unfair, universities have reasons tofollow such a policy of grading more leniently.

At least in the short-term, graduates benefit from a higheraverage by having better chances on the job market. This seemsespecially relevant in times of economic crisis when it is hard tofind companies willing to employ new staff.

Grade Inflation

Variability in Gradingbetween 1920 and 2006

Source: Stuart Rojstaczer,Christopher Healy

Raising grades inretrospect

In the last three years, over 10 US law schools have publiclyannounced to raise all grades without exception by 0,333. Thisincrease also counts for all past grades. Within the Dutch system,this is equivalent to raising a 6 to a 7,2 after the course gradewas already given.

Increasing grades just like that, however, may have negativeconsequences in the long-run.

Firstly, increasing average grades in one university often leadsto other competing universities to follow suit in order to avoidfalling behind. As a results, the artificial competitive advantagedisappears.

Secondly, just as with monetary inflation, individuals may adapttheir expectations about grades. A company would then perceive anaverage grade of 3 as less exceptional than 10 years before.

Whether implementing such a policy in Netherlands is desirableappears questionable. In theory, this could be an easy fix to theoften criticized ‘zesjescultuur’ of Dutch students who only want toscore the minimum grade to pass a course. Instead of giving them a6, they could receive a 7,2 which does not sound so bad afterall.

Table Grade Inflation

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