Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Grade Inflation

(Okay, I'm really catching up on stuff tonight.)

Spent the last three years or so chairing a Faculty Task Force on Grading, focused mainly on the issues of Grade Inflation. I found it hard to get motivated since I basically don't believe that inflation is a significant issue for our faculty, since the vast majority of our instructors use criterion based grading where the whole issue largely does not apply. So, most of the work for the first two years was done by a colleague who was herself greatly concerned with the issue and so took care of the literature review. The Dean wanted the final report this year, so I did a preliminary presentation to Faculty April 16, then -- based on input from a survey of faculty that meeting -- did a final presentation at our Faculty's annual retreat last Thursday. The results of the committee's deliberations can be found at the Grade Inflation Website I threw together in about 10 hours as a briefing for faculty who missed the initial meeting. I think I managed to create a balanced report that incorporated the views of both myself (and the rest of the committee who basically shared my perspective) and my colleague, even though they were essentially opposite positions. Going through the website one direction gives you my argument; going through the other gives you hers. (My route assumes readers from the digital generation clicking through window-sized 'sound bites'; her route gives one blocks of text you have to scroll through to get the sustained argument. Although I wish to avoid stereotyping here, I think matching the traditionalist message with the traditionalist medium and vice versa was a nice touch, if I do say so myself.)

I'm happy to talk about these issues with anyone who is interested...if there is sufficient interest in academic circles I will probably spend sometime expanding the website to be more complete. The first planned addition would be the survey results that reveal that while there are significant number of faculty concerned about grade inflation, none of the think the problem is with their grading! Quite amusing, really.

Comment from Dr. Wasserman:

I take exception to your remark that the concept of grade inflation does not apply to criterion-based grading.  I have yet to see, and cannot imagine, a real-life application of criterion-referenced scoring that can be applied by everyone with absolute consistency over time to different assignments or other work.  In my years of working with standard setters, the description of the characteristics of borderline students were pretty much the same, whether the standard setters were describing students in Grade 3, 6, 9, or 12.  It is only when descriptors are matched with exemplars that the concept of a borderline student takes on any operational meaning, and since the exemplars change with the particular task, there is plenty of room for drift.  If the standards drift down, one could call it grade inflation.

At any rate, your statement that everyone sees grade inflation as something other people do, while he or she is perfectly reliable, is right on the money.

Robert Again:

(I don't know what has happened to my comment seems now to have completely time at the moment to fix it, perhaps after I get back from Toronto conference next week. In the mean time email runte at with your comments, if any.)

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