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Grade expectations

Grade inflation at universities nationwide is a result of teachers issuing too many A's, making B's the the new average. Photo Illustration by Brittney Bomnin

Grade inflation at universities nationwide is a result of teachers issuing too many A's, making B's the the new average. Photo Illustration by Brittney Bomnin

Grade inflation is a major concern in universities nationwide, including the University of Miami.

A Doonesbury cartoon by Garry Trudeau said it all; it depicts a student expressing his dismay at being denied to law school because his inflated GPA only hurt him in the long run.

“It’s not my fault I didn’t deserve all those A’s,” he said in the strip.

According to Dean of the Graduate School Terri A. Scandura, UM has consistently addressed grade inflation since the 1980s.

“The causes of grade inflation appear complex,” he said. “There are many factors that may contribute [such]as students [being]concerned about their average GPA for entrance into graduate school.”

Stuart Rojstaczer, a professor at Duke University, wrote an opinion column titled “Where All Grades Are Above Average” for the Washington Post in 2003.  “The last time I gave a C was more than two years ago. The C, once commonly accepted, is now the equivalent of the mark of Cain on a college transcript,” he wrote.

Professor Sigman Splichal of the School of Communication described the current perception of being average as an “anathema” or something that is detested.

“Schools across the country seem to have slipped into grading patterns in which the “B” is basically an average grade — not the ‘C,’” said Professor Samuel Terilli of the School of Communications.

Sophomore Armstrong Ibe believes some professors don’t want to hurt feelings by giving C’s.

“People complain a lot more nowadays, even if they get a B+,” Ibe said.

According to Dean Barbara Kahn of the UM School of Business, grade inflation is not a problem in her school.

“The School of Business has a policy of grade bands,” she said.

A grade band is the practice of predetermining a certain mean grade that the classes should follow but doesn’t prescribe a set number of each grade.

“It wasn’t my mandate. It was a decision the faculty made,” Kahn said.

Kahn, who was vice dean at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of business before coming to the UM, said that Wharton followed a curve instead of a grade band but both prevent grade inflation.

“Then [with a grade band]there is some pressure on the faculty to create mechanisms in their classes that discriminate between different academic levels of students,” Kahn said.

Senior Joseph-Chad DiFrancesco blames the practice of a grading band for lowering his grade to a B when he received A’s on all the exams in a couple of classes.

“Getting an A on a test is easier but getting that final grade is harder,” DiFrancesco said.

Kahn believes that grade distribution is necessary to prevent grade inflation.

“If everyone is getting an A then it doesn’t have much value,” Kahn said.

However, directly comparing the trend of rising grades from different institutions can be misleading.

“When comparing grades across time and different colleges you have to remember that different professors and different colleges grade differently so it is not a perfect way to analyze grade inflation,” UM Provost Thomas LeBlanc said.

He also pointed out that students are learning differently than they did in the past, especially because of the internet.

The more important question academia needs to address is what makes a grade fair and what they are really measuring, according to LeBlanc.

“The idea that there is some true way of grading the acquisition of knowledge is in question,” he said.

October 7, 2009

Reporters

Adam Weinstein


ONE COMMENT ON THIS POST To “Grade expectations”

  1. Mike says:

    As a UM grad that applied to top law schools, I firmly believe that grad inflation is not a factor in grad school admissions. In fact, having the strongest GPA possible, regardless of how you got there, is a major benefit. Grad schools, and colleges, want to be able to have the highest average GPA for their admitted applicants, as it is a factor in their US News ranking and in assessing their selectivity. Perhaps the most eggregious school for grade inflation is Harvard, as they understand that having strong GPA’s for most students helps more than it hurts. The bottom line is that having a poor GPA can exclude you from consideration from competitive graduate programs, irregardless of the inflation level at your school.

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