To Stop Grade Inflation, Just Stop Inflating Grades
Grade inflation in higher education is a much-talked-about problem. Having been in academe for 13 years as an instructor and now as an administrator, I have heard nearly all my past and present colleagues, as well as many of the instructors who teach at my institution, complain about it. Most (dare I say all?) of those with whom I have had this conversation swear they don’t give undeserved grades. Yet the phenomenon persists. Where is the disconnect? Someone is doing it.
That’s a problem, both for students and for higher education in general. As Clifford Edwards, a professor of teacher education at Brigham Young University, points out, grade inflation “misleads students into believing they are better prepared for the world of work than they really are.” In addition, it has been argued that by inflating grades, we are failing to teach students what it means to succeed, which erodes their self-esteem. And if A’s are so easily obtainable, what does it say about the standards of the colleges dispensing them or the value of the degrees being conferred?
A 2004 study found that 56 percent of faculty members who were interviewed were convinced that grade inflation existed at their institution. But they were equally convinced that it was not happening in their departments or their courses. In fact, 92 percent of the interviewed professors believed that the grades they handed out were lower, on average, than they actually were. The researchers, Janice McCabe and Brian Powell, suggested that this skewed perception may indicate that “individuals believe they are better than average, and that their situation is distinct from others.”