Sunday, May 02, 2010

Who Grade Inflation Really Hurts

Good students, of course. If you're a student who produces genuinely excellent work, you'll probably be getting an 'A'--the same grade lots of other students who produced pretty good work will be getting. Your excellent work is now, to every other person in the world other than (possibly) the professor, indistinguishable from the pretty good work of other students who also got 'A's. And if you did genuinely pretty good work, and thus deserve (and probably get) a 'B', your work will be indistinguishable from the grades of a big ol' chunk of students did average work but got a 'B' anyway.

And if you graduate college by being fairly smart and doing fairly well and working fairly hard in the vast majority of your classes, your college degree will be largely indistinguishable from the large chunk of students who aren't very smart, really didn't do all that well, really didn't work all that hard.

And those parents who dished out vast sums of money to secure an education for their children...well, you're probably not in much of a position to tell whether they got one or not. Grades aren't a very good indicator--except for bad ones. Those are, in the main, an excellent indicator of educational badness. In very many university classes, you've got to do extremely bad work indeed to get a bad grade. But those good grades--they don't really tell you all that much, since most everybody gets them.

(Of course this will vary from discipline to discipline. An 'A' in an Scomm or "cultural studies" class generally won't mean the same thing as an 'A' in a physics or econ class. So that's something.)

I'm not in favor of any kind of draconian solution here; I don't like to see students struggle, nor fail. I'm not a mean guy. I'm not that tough a grader in the cosmic scheme of things. But this is bullshit, it's wrong, it makes no sense, and it's got to stop.


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