A Study on Grade Inflation found that grades continue to rise and that A is the most common grade earned at all kinds of colleges.
The findings are based on an analysis of colleges that collectively enroll about one million students, with a wide range of competitiveness in admissions represented among the institutions. Key findings:
- Grade point averages at four-year colleges are rising at the rate of 0.1 points per decade and have been doing so for 30 years.
- A is by far the most common grade on both four-year and two-year college campuses (more than 42 percent of grades). At four-year schools, awarding of A’s has been going up five to six percentage points per decade and A’s are now three times more common than they were in 1960.
- In recent years, the percentage of D and F grades at four-year colleges has been stable, and the increase in the percentage of A grades is associated with fewer B and C grades.
- Community college grades appear to have peaked.
- At community colleges, recent years have seen slight increases in the percentages of D and F grades awarded. While A is still the top grade (more than 36 percent), its share has gone down slightly in recent years.
One important driver of grade inflation is the concept of “student as consumer.” This notion of a student as a consumer of the educational products schools are selling may be driving colleges to accept high grades and to effectively encourage faculty members to award high grades in order to keep students happy and buying more educational services from the college. I am guilty of this in my classes. If I have a student that likes to complain and they are close to an A, I will give it to them to avoid any complaints to the school. And the School’s administrators are happy about this. They never come back and ask why I gave an A to a student. They only ask why I did give them an A.
“University leadership nationwide promoted the student-as-consumer idea, it’s been a disastrous change. We need leaders who have a backbone and put education first.”
While “Student as Consumer” is a problem, I think a larger driver of grade inflation is that a grade not only grades the students skills, but grades the teachers teaching. And since teachers are grading they will likely give better grades to students because that reflects best on their teaching.
In my classes I often hear as a response to a bad grade is that I, the Teacher, did a poor job teaching that skill. The student expects that if they do what the teacher teaches they should get a good grade.
The way to fix the problem of teachers giving good grades because the grade actually is grading the teachers skills at teaching, is have some natural third party test the student.
To me, having a third party grade the student actually accomplishes two things. It grades the students mastery of the skill and it grades the teachers teaching those skills. If the third party notices that the students from a particular teacher are getting lower grades than the assumption can be made it is the teachers fault. And the school can take appropriate steps to solve help the teacher do a better job.
A 2013 study published in Educational Researcher, “Is the Sky Falling? Grade Inflation and the Signaling Power of Grades” (abstract available here), argued that a better way to measure grade inflation is to look at the “signaling” power of grades for employment (landing prestigious jobs and higher salaries). To the extent the relationship between earning high grades and doing better after college is unchanged — and that’s what the study found — the “value” of grades can be presumed to have held its ground, not eroded.