What grade inflation really means

Has the increase of A grades diminished grade value?

WRITTEN BY: Cristina Chang
Image Source: Clipart

At some colleges, there’s an upward trend of students receiving A grades. For some educators, that’s diluting the importance of good grades.

The issue is how to make good grades meaningful for all students, said Nicolaus Mills, a professor of American studies at Sarah Lawrence College, according to the Huffington Post. He argues that a letter grading system doesn’t describe the depth of students' skills or allow the student to understand what he or she did to earn the professor’s recognition.

Many colleges are facing grade inflation because of the increasing pressure to have a student body that succeeds academically, and because students are trying harder, Mills said.

Some colleges have also sought to help students gain an upper hand. For instance, Loyola Law School Los Angeles adds an extra .333 to each student’s GPA to make them more attractive in the job market, according to the New York Times.

But other colleges are taking measures to combat grade inflation. Princeton University expects every academic department and program to assign less than 35 percent of undergraduates an A, with each department retaining some flexibility on grading. However, the university also said that any students who produce A-quality work should receive the grade, and that any act to the contrary would be "irresponsible and unjust."

Reed College is also well-known for its policies combating grade inflation.

"Our policy is not that everybody gets A's," said Reed spokesperson Kevin Myers.

In the last graduating class, the average GPA was a 3.2 and only 10 percent of students scored 3.67 or higher. In the last 26 years, only 10 students have graduated with 4.0 or higher. Myers said there are benefits to reduced emphasis of good grades.

"We have a policy that you don’t put a letter grade that gets passed back to students," Myers said. "Professors write out pretty lengthy explanations what you missed and what to improve on. The policy is based on understanding material than striving for grades."

Myers concedes that there have been complaints that the grading policy harms students applying for law, medical and professional schools, where students need to have a 3.75 GPA to be considered. To even the playing field, Reed sends transcripts, accompanied with explanation cards on the GPA.

Overall, the policy hasn’t been a problem. Reed is third place among colleges producing students who go on to get doctorates of philosophy.

"The emphasis is on learning the material and theories, not just doing enough to get by, the goal is to completely understand the work, the theories, the problems you’re tackling," Myers said. "It leads to an environment conducive to learning as opposed to shooting for a grade."

Meanwhile, Mills concedes that student grade should depend on the quality of the class and that there should be no fixed percentage or bell curve.

"There is no way a grade can sum up a student’s talents," he said. "All courses should have teachers do a detailed, written report, as we do at Sarah Lawrence."

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