Grade Inflation at the College of New Jersey How we grade, why it’s bad, what to do Mary Biggs, Professor of English The College of New Jersey Richard Kamber, Professor of Philosophy The College of New Jersey
How we grade today? • Average GPA: 3.1 - 3.2 • Grade Distribution (Spring 2005) • A: 33% • A-: 17% • B+: 13% • B: 14% • B- 7% • C+,C, C-: 10% • D+, D: 3% • F: 2%
But our generosity with grades is not evenly distributed.A and A- in Spring 2005 • School of Education: 77% • School of Art and Media: 72% • School of Nursing: 64% • School of Culture and Society: 45% • School of Engineering: 44% • School of Science: 37% • School of Business: 34%
How do we compare to national averages? • Higher than national averages. • U.S. Dept. Of Ed. (Clifford Adelman) postsecondary transcript study (2004) • For 1992 12th graders, transcripts for 8,900 students gathered in 2000 showed an average GPA of 2.74. Those who earned a BA or higher had an average GPA 3.04. • U.S. Dept. Of Ed. Profile of Undergraduates in U.S. Postsecondary Institutions 1999-2000 • An average GPA of 2.9 for nation as whole. • National Survey of Student Engagement (2004) • “About two-fifths of all students reported that they earned mostly A grades, another 41% reported grades of either B or B+, and only 3% of students reported earning mostly Cs or lower.”
But probably not higher than equally selective institutions Using GPA’S for 79 schools in1998 from Stuart Rojstaczer’s gradeinflation.com: • 3.3 GPA or higher: Brown, Carleton, Columbia, Harvard, Harvey Mudd, Pomona, Princeton, Williams • 2.8 – 3.2: about 65 institutions • 2.7 or below: Hampden-Sydney, University of Houston, Norfolk State, Northern Michigan, Sam Houston State, SUNY—Oswego
So why worry? What it is the harm of grade inflation? #1Mom’s Law: Harmful practices are harmful even if others are doing them. • Like “Newspeak” in Orwell’s 1984, a grading system whose vocabulary is largely compressed to A’s and B’s, cannot express the range of critical distinctions students need to hear and teachers are uniquely qualified to make. • It deprives students of information that could be useful for choosing majors and careers. • It deprives employers and graduate programs of information needed to counterbalance standardized tests and the cruelly elitist criterion of institutional prestige. • The devaluation of A’s deprives teachers of a formal means of inspiring the long reach toward academic excellence.
Why is grade inflation harmful? #2 • When F is given only to students who drop out or fail to turn in assignments rather than to all students who fail to meet basic course objectives, then colleges adopt the practice of social promotion that has stripped high school diplomas of credibility. • It discourages students from enrolling in more stringently graded courses and programs.
Why is grade inflation harmful? #3 • Valen Johnson’s ingenious studies at Duke led him to conclude: • “within the same academic field of study, students are about twice as likely to select a course with an A- mean course grade as they are to select a course with B mean course grade” • “if differences in grading policies between divisions at Duke were eliminated, undergraduates would take about 50% more courses in natural science and mathematics” • Frantic and aggressive grade chasing • Lackluster students now contest grades as high as B+ • My beleaguered adjunct
Two excuses for ignoring grade inflation. • Excuse 1: “As long as you have rigorous assessment of student of learning, high grades are justified (or will take care of themselves.)” • The harmful effects mentioned above are the result of giving mostly high grades. Unless rigorous assessment leads to fewer high grades, it will not diminish these harmful effects. • E.g. No matter how rigorous your assessment, you can’t use A’s to inspire exceptional rather above average work when you give 50% of your students A’s. • But if rigorous assessment leads to fewer high grades, then it would diminish these harmful results.
Does rigorous assessment lead to a reduction in grade inflation? • Middle States suggest that it can: • “If instructors were to match grades explicitly with goals, it would be become easier to combat grade inflation, because high grades must reflect high performance in specified areas.” Student Learning Assessment, p. 37. • But no regional accrediting commission collects data practices, much less correlates grade data with assessment practices. So how do they know? • The evidence with which I am familiar suggests that rigorous assessment does not lead to a reduction in grade inflation.
Two trends and two case studiesTwo Trends • The assessment of student learning movement has been in full swing for the past ten years and gained momentum during the past five. • During this same period grade inflation in the U.S. has reached an all-time high.
Case study 1: the former College of New Jersey • Most of you know about Princeton’s adoption of a “social compact” requiring each department to assume responsibility for limiting A+, A, A- to less than 35 % overall and to less than 55% for junior and senior independent work. • What you may not know is that Princeton tried for four years to reduce grade inflation by promoting rigorous assessment and voluntary good grading practices. • But average GPA and the percentage of A’s kept rising. A senior in 2003 with a 2.0 average ranked 1078 out of a class of 1079.
Case study 2: the present College of New Jersey # 3 • Over the past four years TCNJ has placed increased emphasis on rigorous assessment. • During those years there has been a steady in the percentage of A’s we give. • In Spring of 2001, 25% of all grades were A. In Spring of 2005, 33% of all grades were A.
Excuse # 2: High grades are effective motivators • It is sometimes argued that whatever the drawbacks of high grades they are effective means of motivating students to do their best work. Is this true? • One measure of how hard students are working is how many hours they spend preparing for class. • A common rule is that students should spend a minimum of two hours outside of class for each credit hour they receive. This means that a full-time student who is earning 16 credits a semester hours in class, should spend 32 hours on academic work outside of class.
The National Survey of Student Engagement (2004) • NSSE asked freshman and seniors how many hours per 7-day week they spent preparing for class (studying, reading, writing, doing homework, or lab work, analyzing data, rehearsing, and other academic activities) • For spring 2004, the percentage of freshmen who reported who spending more than 20 hours a week preparing for class was 16%; the percentage of seniors was 19%. Self-reported! • Only 6% of senior and 4% of freshman reported spending more than 30 hours a week.
What about TCNJ? • Better but not good. • For spring 2004, the percentage of freshmen who reported who spending more than 20 hours a week preparing for class was 24%; the percentage of seniors was 28%. Self-reported!! • Only 9% of senior and 7% of freshman reported spending more than 30 hours a week. • Next NSSE report for TCNJ is spring 2006.
What can be done? • Princeton has chosen to cap A’s. We could do the same. • Most of the problems could be corrected by nation-wide adoption of three principles: • No more than 20% of undergraduate grades at the A level • No more than 50% of undergraduate grades at the A and B levels combined • The grade of F is used to indicate failure to meet basic standards for a course and not just failure to attend classes or complete assignments • There are steps short of grade caps that you can take to reduce the causes and harm of grade inflation. Mary Biggs will discuss them. • Moreover, you don’t have to go it alone. You can collaborate with other institutions and let your accrediting bodies and professional associations know that they too are responsible for dealing with grade inflation.