31.1.03

MORE ON GRADE INFLATION. Number 2 Pencil doesn't fool around. "In the last Statistics class that I taught, I set a grading scale that was tougher than the one conventionally used at the university, and I told the class on Day 1 that I was not afraid to flunk people. There were several C's, D's, and F's in the class, despite the fact that I gave a great deal of extra credit work. The students who received these low grades were undoubtedly unhappy with me (although one had the grace and presence of mind to apologize for his poor performance and assure me that he would work harder when he took the course a second time). However, the students who did earn A's did a tremendous amount of work for it and were very proud of their results. I know, because they put this on their evaluations." Why can't the hotshots at the famous universities show this kind of backbone? (No. 2 Pencil likely has also identified the folly of extra credit. Who among the professoriate hasn't had the experience of the weak student asking for extra credit, which, if it isn't offered on a consistent basis to all students, is grounds for a grade appeal, but I digress? As if not doing the regular work but asking to do something special as a substitute for that work will save you. Yeah, right. "Superintendent? I broke the feedwater heater pump again. If I drain the water from the air brake system, you won't fire me, right?)

The post also provides a link to a Bruce Bartlett column that has picked up the original story. Here's the money graf: "Unfortunately, grade inflation is not costless. One consequence is that students are discouraged from taking science courses, where the nature of the subject matter has held down grade inflation, in favor of those in the humanities, where it is rampant. Over time, this has caused universities to drain resources from science programs. Eventually, this will harm economic growth by reducing technological innovation and advancement." Perhaps. Bartlett also has this: "Reinforcing the inflationary trend in grading was the growth of student evaluations in promotion and tenure decisions for professors. Obviously, students tend to give good reviews to those who are easy graders. And as graduate school became the norm for increasing numbers of college students, there was more of a premium on good grades. In this sense, credential inflation -- requiring more and more education to do the same job -- has contributed to grade inflation." The phenomenon he notes is not so obvious. It takes latent variable analysis to tease it out. (Via Newmark's Door.) And Bartlett misses the real crime: colleges are now providing much of the basic training the sixth grade used to do.

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