Study Finds Clear Evidence of Grade Inflation
A report published by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences demonstrates clear evidence of grade and evaluation inflation at U.S. universities. The report “Evaluation and the Academy: Are We Doing the Right Thing?” was authored by Dr. Henry Rosovsky, the former dean of Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Dr. Matthew Hartley, a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education.
Changing the current system will be difficult, the authors say. But they assert that the academic world has “the obligation to make education improvements when needed and when possible.”
According to the authors, “Simply to accept the status quo is not acceptable professional conduct. We need, if possible, to suggest ways for institutions to initiate reforms that will allow as clear gradation as possible to replace the present confusion.”
The causes and consequences of grade inflation and uncritical letters of recommendation are complex, the authors say. They cite a variety of possible causes for these developments, including:
• Higher education’s response to the Vietnam War and the turmoil of the 1960s;
• Changes in curricular and grading policies;
• The advent of student evaluations of professors;
• The rise, in the 1980s, of consumerism;
• The watering down of course content;
• The increasing role of adjuncts in university faculties.
Rosovsky and Hartley find little evidence that the increasing number of students from diverse socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds has contributed to grade inflation. In fact, they argue that grade inflation began in the mid-1960s, when lower income and minority students made up only a small fraction of the national higher education student body.
The report also explores the potential consequences of the devaluation of grades, from an increasing reliance on standardized text scores to stronger dependence on becoming part of an “old boy or old girl’s network.”
In addition, the authors offer some concrete recommendations to the academic world, including greater institutional dialogue, greater discussion among universities about their grading practices, the formulation of alternative grading systems, and the establishment of a standard distribution curve in each class to act as a yardstick.
For more information or a complete copy of the report, visit the American Academy Web site at <www.amacad.org>.
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