Grade Inflation in High School Essay

Grade Inflation in High SchoolIntroductionThe phrase “grade inflation” has become progressively more common within the higher education lexicon throughout the past thirty years. The appearance denotes “an increase in grade point average without an associated increase in achievement” (Potter and Nyman, 9-14).

Its implication, however, cause an even harsher judgment of the excellence of student learning in higher education today. Some researchers have gone so far as to propose that this trend actually reflects “dumping down the programme of study to focus on self-esteem goals” or that it is “tied to social and ethical decline” (Eiszler,483-501; McSpirit 104-09). The variety of grading practices across disciplines and institutions further complicates the question of what, exactly, an A or B signifies.Faculty and students alike respond to trends by aiming to conform with norms as they perceive them: “An ‘A’ in an individual course is often looked upon as a birthright by our students and overwhelming proof is needed before any lower grade is forthcoming” (Alper, 57-61).

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Indeed, many students and instructors of all ranks appear to subscribe to the myth that grades and success are tightly bonded, particularly in the area of their future career potential. It is an oversimplification of the problem, however, to dismiss the meaning of high grades simply as exaggerated reports of student and faculty achievement.In this paper, I investigate the history, current discourse, and potential solutions to grade inflation.

Throughout the review of literature, one discerns the presence of a gap within most discussions of grade inflation. Grading frequently is viewed and analyzed without any concern for the more important question of how grades relate to student learning. When we say that we aim to fight grade inflation, we really are expressing a desire to ensure that students are engaging in the most meaningful learning experience that educators can provide.

If we are to grade in an environment of academic rigor and enhanced learning, we must cultivate a spirit of teamwork and openness to faculty development as a matter of everyday campus culture.Alleged Causes: Literature Review“Grade inflation may be caused by decreases in academic standards or increases in student performance or both. The pressure to reduce standards placed on teachers can come from parents, students, and schools.

This is especially true since, if other schools or teachers are inflating grades, any school or teacher that takes a “hold out” stance will place its students at a disadvantage. Some educators may feel pressured to give higher grades for fear of students complaining and receiving bad course evaluations, thereby diminishing their reputation resulting in denial of promotion or tenure, or causing them to face lower enrollment in their classes”. (http://en.wikipedia.

org)Stuart Rojstaczer, a science professor from Duke University, laments about in an essay from his book Gone For Good titled “Lowering the Bar”.  He blames grade inflation as a leading cause in undermining intellectual achievement in higher education today (161).The notion that lower-ranking faculty members’ insecurities and their drive to please the students causes grade inflation has been discredited. One extensive quantitative survey shows that there is only a 3.9 percent variance in overall teaching ratings attributable to student grade expectations (Marsh and Roche, 202-27).

According to Marsh and Roche, “Teachers cannot get higher than average SETs [Student Evaluations of Teaching] merely by offering easier courses and giving students higher than deserved grades” (226).It is true that nontenured faculty give higher grades than their tenured, often more accomplished counterparts, but the reasons why this occurs warrant thorough exploration. Remarkably, students’ perceived learning rating had a .53 correlation with favorable or unfavorable teacher evaluations, and students’ perception of engaging assignments most heavily influenced their teacher evaluations, with a .67 correlation (Marsh and Roche, 202-27).

Anticipated grades influenced the evaluations with only a .20 correlation.In this light, prevailing perspectives and discussions regarding grade inflation may be misguided and founded largely on over-generalizations and myth. Marsh and Roche’s findings demonstrate that students appreciate a stimulating learning experience more than they want an A. The literature regarding the rise in grades among college students in recent decades appears to have generated its own lore. Several studies point to the origin of unduly elevated grades in the Vietnam era (Alper, 57-61, Hardy, 28-31; Lanning and Perkins, 163-68; Basinger, 88-91; Kwon and Kendig, 50-55). Draft boards did not distinguish an  Ivy League GPA from a community GPA so to protect his students and his conscience, a professor would or subconsciously grade higher.

As the heated up and required more bodies, so did grades march upward.As of the 1980s, grade elevation was ubiquitous and undeniable. Connected to this notion of higher grades as a matter of faculty conscience is the practice of building and reinforcing students’ self-esteem, which originates in primary and secondary education (Eiszler, 483-501; Potter and Nyman, 9-14; Landrum, 124-29; Kwon and Kendig, 50-55; McSpirit, 104-09; Mansfield, B24). Although not a life-and-death concern in times when students do not face the prospect of being drafted into military service, grades in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s reflect faculty awareness of students’ emotional fragility and self-image. For example, since 1992 fewer than 10 percent of undergraduate course grades at Stanford have been below B; 91 percent of grades earned at Harvard are B- or above (Kwon and Kendig, 50-55).The connection of self-esteem issues with academic performance has led students to misunderstand grading in general; females in particular overestimate their anticipated grades (Landrum, 124-29). Students are not entirely to blame for expecting above-average grades even when their performance is mediocre.

High grade expectations have emerged during the past twenty years alongside the increased popularity of mastery approaches to learning (McSpirit, 19-26; Eiszler, 483-501; Potter and Nyman, 9-14; Lanning and Perkins, 163-68). The practices of allowing retests and revisions of assignments naturally drive student grades upward. Changes in students and in student-faculty communication also need to be addressed as at least partial explanations for the rise in grade point averages nationwide. This allows students to avoid D, F, or even C grades by opting out of a course, rather than toughing it out and risking a low grade (Gose, A7; Eiszler, 483-501).Faculty development programs also have increased in number over the years, providing more opportunities for those who teach to reflect on effective syllabus construction and better ways to foster student learning (Potter and Nyman, 9-14). When we take all of these developments into consideration, it is erroneous to suggest that grades have risen randomly or independently of policies and practices that are likely to motivate or assist students in maintaining high levels of performance.

This explanation of higher grades as attributable to the use of adjunct faculty is flawed, as permanent or full-time faculty are equally unlikely to have had any formal training in how to grade. A more widespread argument attributing unduly elevated grades to the enormous number of adjunct faculty members is that such instructors assume that lenient grading will ensure strong student evaluations of their teaching (Basinger, 88-91; Nagle, 40-43; Hardy, 28-31; McSpirit, 104-09; Lanning and Perkins, 163-68; Landrum, 124-29; Gibson,12-24; Potter and Nyman, 9-14; Eiszler, 483-501; Alper, 57-61).Despite conflicting evidence that grading affects student evaluations, and despite the reality that adjunct faculty generally do receive weaker reviews from students, some instructors’ sense of vulnerability leads them to avoid ill feelings by appeasing students with high grades (Eiszler, 483-501; Landrum, 124-29; Greenwald and Gillmore, 1209-17; Sonner, 5-7). Some evidence indicates that student evaluations are higher when their grades also are high (Eiszler, 483-501), yet no controlled study to determine whether leniency or excellent teaching alone, or perhaps even both, were factors that led to positive student reviews. It also has been alleged, but not proven, that most research on grade inflation has focused almost exclusively on highly selective institutions (Schoichet, A37). It also is important to note that 48.

9 percent of African American students in this piece were found to have “mostly C’s” or lower grades (Schoichet, A37). Critics have spent a disproportionate amount of time pointing fingers at Harvard and Stanford. “The C is alive and well,” (Schoichet, A37); to address the problem of grade inflation, each institution must examine itself as an individual entity with a unique student population. We all must explore campus-specific solutions rather than struggle to interpret questionable national trends.Approaches to Solutions: Literature ReviewIndiana University and Dartmouth College are two institutions whose names emerge in discussions of campuses that currently are attempting to redesign their methods of reporting student performance ratings.

Both have used similar approaches in that they have incorporated indexing systems into individual academic transcripts; this shows each student’s standing relative to classmates and lists the number of students in each course on the transcript. The institutions have had little, if any, impact on grade reporting methods nationwide.In addition, the practice of using relativism to interpret the meaning of a given grade generates controversy, as it is likely to heighten competition and discourage students from assisting each other. More low grades in one’s class increases the value of his or her performance to the A student (Nagle, 40-43; Basinger, 88-91). A simple revision of grade-reporting methods poses a naive avoidance of examining the actual reasons for elevated grades, in a time when student preparation and SAT scores are in decline: “[I]t is much easier to have the registrar ‘do something’ than to dip into the murky water of what is really appropriate in the classroom” (Nagle, 40-43). The only possible effective methods for addressing grade inflation must revolve around an emphasis on standards and learning, rather than on the grades themselves.In recent years, the costs of higher education have increased drastically, leading to the students’ expectation of receiving greater value for the education dollar.

The value is often judged, in the short term, by student grades. Consequently, pressures exist to deliver grades that satisfy students and parents regardless of whether or not standards of excellence are met.“As a student ultimately pursuing a graduate degree in college education, I am particularly alarmed that students are no longer learning at a level commensurate with the grades they are receiving.  Furthermore, as a dedicated and hardworking student myself, who has maintained a high personal standard for academic achievement and excellence, I am just plain angry that students who are actually performing at a far lower level than I are in fact receiving grades similar to those I am receiving.  I am concerned that I will have to compete with them for future employment, and at the age of 50 face stiff competition from students 20 years my junior”. (Rojstaczer, 153-161)“Some administrators and professors have tried to ascribe much of the increase in GPA since the mid-1980s to improvements in student quality. Almost all of these statements linking GPA to the presence of better students have been qualitative in nature. But there have been some attempts, notably at Duke, Texas and Wisconsin, to quantify this relationship using increases in SAT or ACT as a surrogate for increases in student quality.

Such quantitative efforts are of dubious worth because even the organization that administers the SAT test, the College Board, is unable to show that SAT scores are a good predictor of college GPA. A recent study by the University of California system of matriculates showed that SAT scores explained less than 14% of the variance in GPA. Bowen and Bok, in a 1998 analysis of five highly selective schools, found that SAT scores explained only 20% of the variance in class ranking. Their analysis also indicated that a 100 point increase in SAT was responsible for, at most, a 5.

9 percent increase in class rank which corresponds to roughly a 0.10 increase in GPA. This result matches that of Vars and Bowen who looked at the relationship between SAT and GPA for 11 selective institutions. McSpirit and Jones in a 1999 study of grades at a public open-admissions university, found a coefficient of 0.14 for the relationship between a 100 point increase in SAT and GPA”.Discussion and RecommendationsThe assumption that students wish for lenient grading underestimates the breadth of what “student consumerism” signifies. That is, the notion that students want their money’s worth does not indicate that they wish to buy easy A’s and that this will satisfy them.

They wish to earn A’s from faculty members whom they respect through the opportunity to raise to new and clearly defined challenges. Although none of the literature addresses this quantitatively, it is reasonable to presume that tenured faculty feels more secure in challenging students, which invites the risk (and reality), that enrollment numbers in their courses will drop throughout the term. Those who most concern themselves with their perceived dispensability on a campus are inclined to use their class enrollment as indicative of demand for their classes and therefore may hesitate to push students beyond their self-imposed limits.My recommendations for how to address grade inflation revolve around a central focus on teaching and learning effectiveness. Grades and revised grade reporting practices do not hold any answers in themselves. First, teaching evaluations need to be demystified for all faculties.

An in-service session at the beginning of the nine-month contract period needs to be dedicated to faculty discussion of questions, doubts, and false assumptions surrounding several issues:1. How such evaluations are used in personnel decisions and whether or not changes need to be made to this process.2.

Acknowledgement that student ratings of adjunct and permanent faculty do differ and that research shows adjuncts cannot always control some of the factors that account for these differences, such as student prior interest in the course content. A summary of Marsh and Roche’s research will be useful for information and discussion purposes.3. Most important, the content of the teaching evaluations needs to be opened up for discussion and revision: “[Student Evaluations of Teaching] can be improved through a cost-effective combination of SET feedback, appropriate consultation, and application of teaching strategies specific to the particular components of teaching effectiveness that teachers choose to target” (Marsh and Roche,202-27). Course-or discipline-specific evaluation forms need to be designed, which will help instructors focus more clearly on the goals of their teaching endeavors.Each subsequent year, a discussion regarding teaching evaluations and the methods for customizing them should be offered to new faculty as part of their orientation program.

Adjunct faculty as well as the tenured and tenure-track faculty must be included in this activity. A committee consisting of faculty from several ranks and discipline areas can be helpful for determining which items on the evaluation form should apply to all faculty members and which areas are open for individual design. A move from heavily quantitative to mostly qualitative feedback from students may result. This likely will be more instrumental in enhancing teaching effectiveness and reducing faculty defensiveness when facing evaluations. To empower faculty toward increased rigor in course content and grading, it is imperative that ideas for the revision of teaching evaluations come from the faculty members themselves.Second, faculty development programs need to be expanded and offered regularly to adjuncts as well as junior and senior tenure-track faculty. Faculty members already identified as accomplished in the areas of rigorous grading, engaging teaching methods and strong student evaluations may be sent to national or regional workshops so that they can mentor or train their colleagues.

A teaching and learning center to foster such activities is an essential addition to any campus environment.All of these recommendations implicitly point to the value of community within the academic environment as an agent for elevated rigor and enhanced student learning. Faculty and students are those who are most directly affected by grades. Fears and myths must be dispelled. Marsh and Roche conclude:   The most effective ways for teachers to get high SETs are to provide demanding and materials, to facilitate student efforts to master the materials, and to encourage them to value their learning–in short, to be good teachers.In my review of literature, I did neglect to mention the suggestion put forth in “A Modest A++ Proposal for a Solution to the Problem of Grade Inflation”: “Paying faculty who do not inflate grades more is a guaranteed solution to the problem” (Gibson, 12-24). This is a shortcut, however, similar to grade indexing or other methods that focus on the outcomes more than the process of teaching and learning. What this tongue-in-cheek comment touches on, however, has great merit.

Faculty members need a tangible motivation for rethinking their relationship with their students and goals of their teaching. Money, of course, is no more meaningful than an A or a B. Its value changes according to context and one’s individual standards. In fact, Perry Zirkel, a professor of education, actually offered sums of cash totaling ten thousand dollars in 1995 to colleagues who would toughen their grading. “No thanks,” said Lehigh colleagues; the program never was implemented (Gose, A7). There is no evidence that financial compensation and grading are connected in any way.

The collective sense of exasperation expressed by many seeking to solve the riddle of what we call grade inflation actually reveals the very solution to the problem:   With four out of five students graduating with GPA’s of B-minus or better … employers and graduate schools have had to rely on other measures to sift applicants.

Standardized-test scores and institutional “reputation” have become more important than the judgments of teachers and scholars (Kamber and Biggs, B14)ConclusionWe must use this circumstance to our advantage. Institutional reputation and student proficiencies truly are more important than the one-time judgments reported as grades, for the students are the ones who have the highest stakes in the outcomes of their college experience. We can improve student learning outcomes and institutional image now and into the future through faculty development toward learner-centeredness. At the same time, we must engage in a perpetual striving to offer a stimulating, motivating learning environment for students. Myths of adjunct insecurities or faculty apathy must be dismissed within and beyond the college campus.The reward of addressing grade inflation lies in an enhanced sense of community with a greater awareness of lifelong, active learning as the true privilege of the academic existence for students and faculty alike. The wide acceptance of the phrase “grade inflation” has damaged the academic ethos in general.

This phrase converts knowledge or learning into a commodity, with the grade being the currency earned in exchange for one’s labors and redeemable by the payee for whatever he or she desires. As educators, we are held accountable to so many external and internal constituencies and are compelled to focus on learning outcomes. Grades can be fixed in place on a transcript.

After college, pay is instrumental to satisfying our physical needs, but intellectual adaptability is the true determiner of success for any lifelong learner.Works Cited“Grade Inflation at American Colleges and Universities” retrieved from http://gradeinflation.com/ on February 25th 2007“Grade Inflation” retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grade_inflation on February 25th 2007Alper, Paul. “Grades and grade inflation and flyoverland fairy tale”.

Higher Education Review 25 (2), 1993: 57-61.Basinger, David. “Fighting grade inflation”: A misguided effort? Journal of College Teaching 45 (3), 1997: 88-91.Eiszler, Charles F. College students’ evaluations of teaching and grade inflation. Research in Higher Education 43 (4), 2002: 483-501.Foster, David, and Edith Foster.

It’s a buyer’s market: “Disposable professors,” grade inflation, and other problems. Academe, 1998: 28-35.Gibson, William. “A modest A++ proposal for a solution to the problem of grade inflation”. Journal of Irreproducible Results 45 (1), 2000: 12-24.

Gose, Ben. “Efforts to curb grade inflation get an F from many critics”. Chronicle of Higher Education, 1997: A7Greenwald, A.G., and G. M. Gillmore.

“Grading leniency is a removable contaminant of student ratings”. American Psychologist 52, 1997:1209-17.Hardy, Lawrence. “GrA+de inflation: When everyone gets high marks” what’s an A really worth? American School Board Journal, 1997: 28-31.Kamber, Richard, and Mary Biggs. “Grade conflation: A question of credibility”. Chronicle of Higher Education, 2002: B14.

Kohn, Alfie. “The dangerous myth of grade inflation”. Chronicle of Higher Education, 2002: B7.Kwon, I. W., and N. L. Kendig.

“Grade inflation from a career counselor’s point of view”. Journal of Employment Counseling 34 (2), 1997: 50-55.Landrum, R. Eric. “Student expectations of grade inflation.

Journal of Research and Development in Education 32 (2), 1999: 124-29.Lanning, W., and P. Perkins. “Grade inflation: A consideration of additional causes”. Journal of Instructional Psychology 22 (2), 1995: 163-68.

Mansfield, Harvey C. “Grade inflation: It’s time to face the facts. Chronicle of Higher Education, 2001: B24.Marsh, Herbert, and Lawrence Roche. “Effects of grading leniency and low workload on students’ evaluations of teaching: Popular myth, bias, validity, or innocent bystanders?” Journal of Educational Psychology 92 (1), 2000: 202-27.McSpirit, S.

“Faculty ironies on grade inflation”. Journal of Instructional Psychology 27 (2), 2001a: 104-09.McSpirit, S. “Faculty opinion on grade inflation”.

College and University: The Journal of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars 75 (3), 2001b: 19-26.Nagle, Brian. “A proposal for dealing with grade inflation: The Relative Performance Index”. Journal of Education for Business, 1998: 40-43.Potter, William, and Melvin Nyman. “Be careful what you wish for: Analysis of grading trends at a small liberal arts college”. College and University: The Journal of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars 76 (4), 2001: 9-14.Rojstaczer, Stuart.

  “Lowering the Bar:  Why We Have Such Low Expectations for Students Even Though They Could Easily Do More.”  You Are Here:  Readings on Higher Education for College Writers.  Comp.  Russel K. Durst.

  Upper Saddle River:  Prentice – Pearson, 2003.  153 – 161.Schoichet, Catherine. “Reports of grade inflation may be inflated, study finds”. Chronicle of Higher Education, 2002: A37.

Sonner, Brenda S. “A is for “adjunct”: Examining grade inflation in higher education”. Journal of Education for Business, 2000: 5-7.;

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