Grade inflation?

My latest edition of the APA Monitor on Psychology has a little stat from that might interest you. Check out the extensive information at this site. Among other things are the findings that grade inflation began to be evident in the 1960s but really took of in the 1980s and hasn’t stopped.

In the 1930s, the average GPA at American colleges and universities was about 2.35, a number that corresponds with data compiled by W. Perry in 1943. By the 1950s, the average GPA was about 2.52. GPAs took off in the 1960s with grades at private schools rising faster than public schools, lulled in the 1970s, and began to rise again in the 1980s at a rate of about 0.10 to 0.15 increase in GPA per decade. The grade inflation that began in the 1980s has yet to end.

Further, private (and more expensive) schools seem to have much higher inflation in grades that in public schools. The author suggests that the reason is likely the result of the consumer mentality of education these days–you pay a lot for a degree, you want the reward of a good grade.

The author believes that the resurgence of grade inflation in the 1980s principally was caused by the emergence of a consumer-based culture in higher education. Students are paying more for a product every year, and increasingly they want and get the reward of a good grade for their purchase. In this culture, professors are not only compelled to grade easier, but also to water down course content. Both intellectual rigor and grading standards have weakened. The evidence for this is not merely anecdotal. Students are highly disengaged from learning, are studying less than ever, and are less literate. Yet grades continue to rise. (emphasis mine)

According to the author, schools with lax selection standards and community colleges (who probably accept most everyone with a high school diploma or GED) seem to have a much lower grade inflation rate. Why? There isn’t pressure on the profs to give great grades.

Other factors involved?

1. Not denying the author’s findings but we should remember that prestigious schools (with larger rejection rates) do not have a normal distributions of students. Most are high quality. It becomes harder and harder to determine the quality of the very very good from the really good. When there is confusion there will always be pressure to get as much as you can for your work as a student.

2. The philosophy of “everyone wins” is pervasive. Every kid gets a medal for trying at their sport. Every college kid gets an A for trying. I can’t deny that this idea exists.

3. Frankly, education is something to be consumed these days. “What can I do with this” is a much more frequent question than it was when I was in grad school in the 1980s. I don’t see as many students just in it for the love of learning. Is that because of the inflation of costs? Consumption driven education (i.e., my program) is concerned about the outcome rather than building the best creative and critical thinkers. If you value outcome over thinking, you have less to separate the genius students from the competent students. Therefore competency is rewarded and grades inflate because more are able to meet the standard of “competent.”

Grade inflation at Biblical?

Absolutely. But not equally across domains. I suspect we counselors give higher grades than do theology profs. Is it because we are soft and want everyone to be happy and like us? No. We have different philosophies. Like number 3 above, theology tends to focus on critical thinking and abstract ideas. As a result, there will be more diversity of grades with the best students getting the highest grades. However, in counseling classes we focus on skills(not to say we don’t want to build and support critical thinking). We tell the students the skills we want to see and if they can exhibit those skills, they get the good grade. In many ways, we have a Pass/Fail approach to grading (or in some of our courses, does not meet expectations, meets, exceeds) with the understanding that most will meet expectations if we have been really clear about our skills focus. The grade signifies they have the skill. Maybe our philosophy indicates that the grading system of A though F doesn’t really help determine who really is the most competent. For example, I can have students get As in their academic courses but not be interpersonally competent. When you choose a counselor, do you really want to pick on the basis of their GPA or on their ability to exhibit the skill of kindness, insight, and trustworthiness?

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Filed under Biblical Seminary, christian psychology, Cultural Anthropology, News and politics, Psychology, teaching counseling

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