Does Grade Inflation Indicate A’s for No Effort?

Getting straight A's in college might make one's parents proud, but schools and departments giving straight A's are getting a hard look from founder Stuart Rojstaczer. With some colleges handing out A's as more than half of all grades, USA Today College's Cara Newton writes, what does an A grade mean?

Rojstaczer traces the roots of the grade inflation trend to the Vietnam War era, when professors were confronted with the knowledge that a student who couldn't maintain a passing GPA might face draft and deployment. After the war the trend reversed, but began a slow return to inflation in the 1980's. Rojstaczer sees nothing positive in this recent trend.

"In a fair grading system, you reward people for their outstanding achievements," Rojstaczer says. "It's a fair system for students who are working hard and are creative to excel. (Grade inflation) lowers the intensity and intellectual level in many classes."

According to Rojstaczer, today's impetus for grade inflation could be the desire of individual departments to maintain enrollment by offering a high probability of a GPA booster for students that take their courses. Increased connection between student evaluations and promotion, tenure, and retention for professors may also be driving this trend.

Although the preponderance of A's might lead one to expect a decrease in their real value, Newton cites a study recently published in PLOS One that found the contrary. GPA's were the determining factor in acceptance, with the difficulty of the school issuing the GPA not highly considered. Swift's study presented students with variable GPAs coming from alma maters with varying average GPAs. Subjects selected the applicants with the highest GPA, regardless of the average GPA of the school they came from.

"It's very difficult for admissions officers to make the right decisions when they're comparing candidates who are in different grade inflation environments," says Samuel Swift, the lead author of the study. "Even if they know about it, it's very difficult for them to discount it further."

Efforts have been madeto turn back the glut of A's. In 2004, Princeton University issued guidance to its faculty to cap A's at a 35% frequency. However, this reduction is now under question by a Princeton faculty committee due to student concern with grade deflation's effect on their graduate school candidacies.

Yale University's attempts at deflation were turned back before implementation. An attempt to vote on a deflation program was postponed after protest from the Yale student body, currently receiving A's at a 62% rate.

Rojstaczer and his colleague Christopher Healy do find that there are interdepartmental differences in the preponderance of A's. Recent analysis found that rates well under 50% in the sciences, while arts classes trended into the upper 60's and 70's.

11 30, 2013
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