Grading agencies (This is an A+ post)

January 23, 2012

We’ve been in a bull market for Treasury Bonds since the late 1970s, and, as a student pointed out to me recently, and I think I can confirm, we’ve been in a bull market for academic grades too.

As long-term rates have compressed towards zero, so have grades compressed towards A and even A+.

In grad school, many universities consider anything below an A- the moral equivalent of an F, even though a B sounds like one note below an A, and expect students to understand that. It’s hard to figure out why this happened — I remember the start of it during the Vietnam war, when low grades might have annulled an academic deferment. But it’s also part of some general feel-good thing. And the subtle pressure of student grading of faculty, and faculty being judged on it.

The day will come, though not too soon, when universities, like ratings agencies, will be held liable for the judgement implied in the grades they hand out.

Meanwhile, we need a new gold standard for grades.




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this phenomena that instructors are afraid of not passing out A’s lavishly because otherwise they will get poor ratings in the student evaluations and their career will be jeopardized is one of the most pernicious problems in the US education system.

academic administrators find themselves responsible to make their ‘clients’ (i.e. the students or their parents who pay for the tuition) happy, and compete with other institutes to give better grades to their students so they get an advantage in the job market, therefore better job placement for the class and so more applicants for a higher tuition next year.

as a side effect, a highschool teacher, a young faculty who hasn’t got his tenure yet or an adjunct faculty who would rather to be asked again next year to teach a course cannot do much except that compress grades towards A.

Posted by runnerup | Report as abusive

In the Columbia Math Department, named tenured professors were less likely to succumb to grade inflation than assistant professors and grad students who were answerable to some extent to student evaluations. Herve Jacquet would have no problem giving everyone in the class a D if they deserved it, I promise you. LOL

But some even big name professors had a reputation for giving almost everyone an ‘A’. Part of that is maybe to signal they just really don’t care about anything other than their research, so here’s your ‘A’ and just leave me alone. OR, with the recent phenomenon of Wall Street bidding professors in Math and Statistics away from academia, maybe it’s to signal they’re not getting paid enough?

Posted by ScottSolomon | Report as abusive

We do NOT need a new gold standard for grades. We need SKILL based jobs and this is best achieved through the old apprenticeship models. Instead of this common sense approach we force students into further misallocated education. Really, who cares if there is grade inflation? Lets inspire everyone to be the best they can. If they want to push themselves they are free work out how to derive a prime number sequence from Pi at home.

Posted by LA2.0 | Report as abusive