Friday, August 19, 2011

Grade inflation

After the break, a neat graphic on grade inflation (which I saw on Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish). Nothing specific to SIUC, where, at least in my experience, grade inflation is not particularly rampant. Of course, talk about retention rates can readily shade over into grading pressure, but I didn't find the only administrative effort on this front known to me particularly heinous (their flagging of core courses that gave more than 20% of students Ds, Fs, Ws, or INCs). The one problem was their lumping the withdrawals and incompletes in with the Ds and Fs, as it amounted to an effort to pin faculty with all the responsibility for retaining students.

But that initiative led me to think again about my grading, so was worthwhile in my case. Certainly the distribution curve in my large lecture class looks rather more like 1960 than 2007 on the chart below--in fact, my distribution has sometimes been scarier for students, as I learned when forced to think this through by the administrative initiative. You may need to readjust when you are giving out many more Ds and Fs than your faculty peers are—though I find that almost all Fs and most Ds in my classes go to students who fail to turn in significant assignments. There's not much you can do about that.  At any rate, rather than easy grades, I rely on my charm and outstanding good looks to assure high student evaluations.

From C's to A's
Created by: Masters Degree


  1. Aren't core courses more likely to have the lower grades, due to their required and often out of discipline nature? I find the core classes I've taught had lower grades overall and less engaged students compared to the more advanced sociology-spspecific 300 level courses I've taught. Of course this semester I'm teaching a 300 level core class, so we'll see how that goes.

  2. I agree that the Ds and Fs are almost always students who don't submit assignments or, worse, don't ever come to class.

    As for the study time part of the graphic, I am not sure how studying was conceptualized but isn't it possible that it has become more efficient since the 1960s? That is, if study time is computed as time spent on studies outside of class, a student no longer needs to spend time looking through hard copy abstract books (like I did), photocopying articles (like I did), or working through microfilm or fiche (like I did). This would reduce the time spent "studying." This, of course, does not explain why grades are higher.

  3. Ah, the studying is more efficient rumination. I am amazed at how technologically clueless students are at navigating databases, using boolean searches effectively (if at all), they never heard of "Library of Congress Subject Headings" of way to find books closely related to the one that is "spot on" their topic (I compare it to Pandora's "similar artists" feature: If you like X, then it will generate very similar hits). And that's the least of it. So I have a blog on how to do basic things with technology:

    Not sure how being obsessed with texting and listening to music helps. My daughter attended four classes in a certain department (she is in high school) and was shocked that much of the class was texting, Facebooking, looking at cell messages, etc. while the teacher was lecturing. "Dad," she asked, "don't they go to college to LEARN?" "No, sweetie," I said, "many do not. When Dad is exasperated at the end of the day, it is sometimes because students can't write a paragraph." (FYI: I've learned by reading - and by my daughter's experience - that to get students writing more, she has had teachers tell her to include at least 11 sentences in every paragraph and every paragraph must have at least 3 ideas. Zut alors! I thought our students were making that up but we have to "unschool" them!

    For a laugh about grade inflation, see Doonesbury:

  4. Anonymous 9:32 AM:

    At least one study showed that most of the decline happened between 1961 and 1981, before computers would have made much of a difference.

    American Enterprise Institute version at

    Semi-official version at

    Official version at and through Morris Library


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