Saturday, February 14, 2009

Grade Inflation: UNC's Embarrassing Little Secret

Does this sound right to you: 82 percent of all undergraduate students at UNC-Chapel Hill are either "excellent" or "above average," judging from the grades they were given during the fall semester of 2007. Some 82 percent of the grades given to all undergraduates that semester were As or Bs. According to the study of grading done by a UNC economics professor, more A grades were given than any other mark.

Erskine Bowles says he's going to look into it.

Good luck with that! Grade inflation is NOT a UNC-Chapel Hill problem. It's a universal problem in all of American education, and it's not new. I knew professors 40 years ago who couldn't bear to make distinctions between levels of achievement in learning, so everyone got an A. Inability to discern outstanding achievement from mere coasting might, in the best of all possible worlds, disqualify a person from being a teacher.

A little more research might reveal that grade inflation really got its oomph when student evaluations of teachers became popular, and public, and hence a way for students to take their revenge on "hard graders." Popularity among the teaching ranks is like popularity anywhere else: it drives the marketplace.

Or we could just blame it all on the 1960s.

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