Professors: lenient grades ‘hurt everyone’

Study finds faculties grade too leniently

Written By Allison Schubert, Copy Editor

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A study done by the Pew Research Center last year said that 27 percent of all independent college and university presidents believe that their faculties grade too leniently.

For some, this is a serious issue that needs to be resolved. To others, this is an impossible statistic to measure.

Grade inflation is a rise in the average grade awarded to students. The cause of the rise could be from any number of things.

“I’m surprised that [the percentage] is not higher,” Ed Meena, a professor of history at Point Park, said. “I don’t know how the survey would arrive at that number. I think it would depend on the relationship that the university president had with the faculty, too.”

So the question then becomes: is grade inflation something that colleges and universities should be worried about, and how do you stop it?

Don Moore, a professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley, has conducted studies on the topic himself, and believes grade inflation to be a problem that needs fixed at schools worldwide.

“It makes grades less informative,” Moore said in an e-mail interview. “When everyone gets A’s, it becomes more difficult to distinguish those who have mastered the material and those who have not. This also makes them appear successful to outsiders, improving their chances of getting admitted to graduate school or get jobs that consider grades.”

Meena believes that grade inflation, at the collegiate level, is more particular than at a high school level.

“If there is grade inflation at colleges and universities, it’s not at the A level, it’s at the B level,” Meena said. “But every situation is different.”

Not everyone agrees with Moore and his research, and few even question the methods of developing an entire study on the subject.

“How do you look at the distribution of grades?” Helen Fallon, a professor of journalism at Point Park, said in a live interview last Monday. “I’m a writing professor, and I’m a journalist, where I look at things for accuracy and things like that. The requirements are demanding. It’s not the same as a history class. So I don’t know how you figure that out.”

The cause of grade inflation was also called into question in Moore’s study, and he found that the professors that give out the grades are partially to blame.

“The incentives [to give students better grades] actually encourage faculty to grade more leniently,” Moore said. “Their students are happier and may rate the professor better, their students complain less and the professor can help their students by giving them those good grades. There are few rewards for being the tough grader.”

Fallon believes that Point Park has been effective in preventing grade inflation so far by their use of the plus and minus grading scale. By using this version of grading, Fallon believes it is easier to distinguish between someone that has earned a high B and those that haven’t reached that same standard.

Others have alternative ideas.

“The simple solution is for universities to report student performance on a percentile scale,” Moore said. “This could be done instead of, or in addition to, old-fashioned letter grades. A percentile scale is immune to inflation.”

Grade inflation has been a topic of academic discussion, based on the studies available, for the past 40 years. According to the study that Moore did, the average GPAs of students have been steadily increasing by .1 each decade for the past 30 years.

“Grade inflation hurts everyone,” Fallon said. “If people are boosting people’s grades for the wrong reasons, to become a popular professor, say, or to give someone a break – it’s the wrong thing to do because that’s not going to happen to you in the workplace. If there is indeed grade inflation, which I’m not sure that there is [at Point Park], it will only hurt you. Your expectations then become that you will always be perfect, and you’re never going to be perfect. You will always make mistakes.”