Blogs > Liberty and Power > Grade Deflation at UC Davis

May 15, 2005 5:05 am


Grade Deflation at UC Davis






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Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

In my HON 355.01 class this past semester, I had 12 students, to whom I gave 7 A-'s and 5 A's. Can you tell, from that information alone, that grade inflation was at work?

I don't see how. You don't know what the class was, you don't know what the assignments were, you don't know what my grading standards were, or how reliably or accurately I grade. Nor do you know the students, or how well they performed. In other words, allll of the relevant information is missing.

My point is that you cannot in abstraction from all that information simply look at grade distributions and declare that you know that grade inflation is taking place. But that is what is typically done nowadays, and what was done in this post.


Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

I'm afraid I'm having a lot of trouble understanding the basis for the premise that everyone here seems to be taking for granted. The student Chris Szutu asks a good question that I haven't seen anyone in American higher education answer in anything like a satisfactory way: What IS wrong with everyone getting good grades, if everyone deserves them? Is that really such a dumb question? If it is, why can't anyone give it an intelligent answer?

There isn't a particle of evidence in the links cited here that suggests that grade deflation is in order--because there isn't a particle of evidence to suggest that the "epidemic" of A's is either undeserved OR deserved. There is just the claim that there are lots of A's out there. In and of itself, that tells us nothing of significance about inflation, deflation or desert.

I'm pretty much at a loss to see the basis of the inference from "Lots of students are getting A's" to "Those A's couldn't possibly be earned"--when made in abstraction from any evidence about what was expected of the students, & what they actually did.

Pressed for answers to elementary questions about grade inflation, one hears little more than loose talk about a general "decline in standards." Excuse me--what standards? Whose standards? If there is a Platonic Grade Book out there that everyone but me is consulting, I'd love to see it. But I've taught at a small handful of institutions, and I'd be hard-pressed to identify more than a handful of instructors, from chaired/tenured faculty to adjuncts, who could even articulate the grading standards that they used from semester to semester, much less defend them. Every institution and every department--in fact, every gradebook--is a grading fiefdom unto itself. And yet somehow, everyone "knows" that grading standards "everywhere" are declining.

Let's face it: the grade inflation debate is the biggest bluff in higher education. On the one hand you have a situation in which members of a single department can't agree on grading standards applicable to everyone in the department. (Isn't that why they have to resort to affirmative action-like ratios as a proxy for actual grading standards?) On the other hand, you have people making cosmic judgments about "declining standards in American higher education." Hmm. I see a problem here. Maybe the students do, too.


Jonathan Dresner - 5/18/2005

It's also a factor in the movement towards non-grade assessment, driven by the accrediting agencies under pressure from legislatures and employers.


Max Swing - 5/17/2005

I know what you mean. There is no guiding line that could make those grades truly comparable.
This is, as I understand you right, due to the difference in educational content between the universities, so that the grades alone don't show whether there is an inflation or a deflation of A's :)


Max Swing - 5/16/2005

Well, but wouldn't you say that even, if there are many A's, there are better and worse A's (strictly speaking in manner of style and answer precision). So, we have to change the standard in measurement to reflect the closer distance between good and bad grades, thus changing the whole scale. People with an A-, now get a B or a C. But overall, in a competitive ranking with other universities, this university should be ranked higher.

I think this is what is coined as grade deflation, but I could be wrong. So, there is nothing wrong with everyone performing good, it just makes grades useless and doesn't support a modus to compare students amongst each other via grades.


Max Swing - 5/16/2005

Indeed, that's a very competitive stance compared to contemporary schools/universities.

This is also the reason, why many universities are looking more on extra-curricular activities and other standards (like social activities in and around campus) to select the high-potentials. IMO, this is the best sign of the inflated grade system.


David Timothy Beito - 5/15/2005

At least some employwers in the U.S. are beginning to recognize this. These days any graduate school worth its salt would more or less discount grades and and focus on other factors.

I have heard that student-run medieval universities actually were quite hawkish in their dedication to keeping up standards. They knew that if their schools had a reputation for low standards, the values of their diplomas would be depreciated in the workplace.


Max Swing - 5/15/2005

The Problem with sudden Grade deflation might be not so big with students who stay inside Universities, but for those trying to get jobs in the private market.
It is a problem you face, if companies only want student with A's and suddenly one university drops out of the standard scheme. They have to work together with the market to show them that it is not because of worse students, but because of higher standards in teaching.

We had the same problem in Germany, because education-levels change from federal state to state. So, if you applied at an university, in the beginning, it was unimportant where you did your A-Levels. (Abitur)

Later, the universities discovered that the pupils with B-C's from southern states like Bayern and Baden-Württemberg actually were better in the university exams. They had the harder basic educations from high school and thus also the greater expertise (but still worse grades than the average pupil from one of the northern states).


Sudha Shenoy - 5/15/2005

...the Dodo said, "_Everybody_ has won, and _all_ must have prizes".

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