Friday, June 25, 2010

Back to Grade Inflation

Before the fiery death of our once-beloved blog, it had come to our attention that Loyola Law-LA had recently artificially inflated all students' GPAs in order to make them more "marketable." (For hiring, at least; woe betide the employer who then has to rely on the new employee)

This story has stuck with me for a few days, because it seems emblematic of many developments in our collective misery.

From students: The lucky students at Loyola-LA have achieved their goal of getting something for nothing. They can walk away with a purchased high GPA that does not correspond to any proven work.

From administration: teachers who penalized students for lateness, skipping exams or classes, trying to argue that George Orwell was a tool of the Obama Administration, drooling through class, or plagiarizing their work have been overruled in favor of our dear customers. Administration goes up in students' esteem, they get more money, they eliminate a few more tenure-track positions and hire more poverty-stricken grad students.

For teachers: this continues the long trend of grading becoming more and more complex and arbitrary. At one of my schools, I am required to prove an average of 85% for any of my course's final grades. Despite the hard-working (or over-slacking) character of any given class, 85% is the absolute must for all averages. Going above that average will result in a completely RANDOM selection of students whose grades are then dragged downward. Going below, and a few lucky stoners will find a B where a C+ once stood.

So what is the answer here? Universities, strapped for cash, need to appear more and more competitive with each other. They must produce students better-prepared for an impossible marketplace on paper rather than informed and educated. We abandon these lofty "higher-purpose" goals of education in favor of straight-jacket numbers.

I suggest that before the universities just return to the ways of the Catholic Church indulgences (or have we already?), the regional accreditation councils step in. Evaluate not just courses and teachers and requirements, but methods of grading as well. Establish that Chicago-area accreditation means that 80% is an average grade, 90% is a very good grade, 95% is an impossibly high grade. Hold all those accredited in that reason to that standard, and threaten to strip them of accreditation if their grades begin inching higher.

What problems am I missing through proposing this fail-safe measure? What are your experiences with artificially inflated/deflated grades?


  1. While grade inflation does exist and it is a problem, are we making too much out of this one article? As I understand it, the grade adjustment applies only to the law school. Law schools may operate under different rules and expectations. Employers may not care very much about the overall GPA because they know the values are BS. Instead, they could look at class rank which would be unaffected by GPA (assuming students took the same courses).

  2. I agree with Anonymous that people are making too much of the article. Apparently Law Schools do this sort of thing all the time.

    There is a difference though:

    This grade shift was made public. It is ringing a bell in a lot of profs and students who are experiencing the same thing in non-law contexts. It brings up all the garbage Academic Monkey mentions above...stuff we're all experiencing and don't think is right.

    Here's my problem I posted about a few times at RYS -- Grade appeals! Some faculty are so derisive of their colleagues that they think their pedagogical methods are wrong so they have no problem raising a grade by a whole letter or two.

    One "colleague" thought that my policy of not accepting late papers was just so wrong (it was due on the last day of class for the semester and she decided to skip), so he made me grade the snowflake's paper while he watched. I didn't have a rubric with me. I wasn't allowed to Google for plagiarism. The flake had an extra 2 weeks to do the paper before she gave it to the committee! I was told to just give it half credit if I wasn't willing to just raise her D to a C ... cuz they said so. She didn't earn that D just from not handing in that paper!

    I said I would give the little bitch a C-, which meant she'd have to re-take the course if she decided to major in the discipline. I bet someone excused her from that requirement too.

  3. When did average suddenly jump from 75 to 80%?

  4. That makes about as much sense as not failing anybody, regardless of their performance in a course.

    My former department head followed that policy. In one course, he had a young student who was bright enough but was the sort who would have been more interested in going to the shopping centre across the street from the main campus than applying herself to her studies. She dropped out of the department halfway through the second term, having a record of doing that sort of thing. (She either dropped out of university or was given a dean's vacation, and then dropped out after a term and a half after enrolling at our institution.) Somehow, she still managed to get a grade of 50% in the course. Go figure.

  5. I TA-ed for a prof once who gave students an F if they didn't hand in a mandatory paper.

    Sadly, that F was converted to a 55 instead of 0 when determining numerical grades.

    That somehow seemed unfair to the students who worked hard to earn a C.

  6. I can't see giving a missing assignment more than 0 either.

  7. Oh, god, now even "valedictorian" is a meaningless term....


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