Monday, February 1, 2010

Whining overachievers at Princeton

The NYT chronicles the sad tale of grade deflation at Princeton.

We have a lot of grade inflation here at Michigan too. I cringe at the fraction of students in my undergraduate econometrics course who get As, which is around 40 percent. Almost no one gets a C or a D. But I am just following the norms set by my predecessor in the course, whose grade distributions I reviewed before setting my own the first time I taught it and, more broadly, the standard grading patterns in my department and in the university as a whole.

Also, as an individual professor, holding the line on my own can only hurt me. My teaching ratings would sink relative to other professors not fighting the good fight. Even at the department level we do not have an incentive to resist, as our departmental funding depends on how many bottoms we put in seats in our courses. If we hold the line, we will lose students and funding to less disciplined disciplines.

So you really need university level action, which seems unlikely, particularly given that the administration is presently preoccupied (as they should be) with the financial crisis and the rest of the time is preoccupied with construction projects, the basketball and football teams, and demographic diversity.

Perhaps more realistic is a proposal to put class ranks on transcripts both for every individual class (e.g. ECON 406 A 25/70) as well as within major GPA ranks (e.g. BA Econ 225/700). While we're at it, why not report individual level SAT/ACT scores on the transcripts, along with the average SAT/ACT among graduates in the student's major? That would provide information on how to adjust for sorting by major.

For those who want to learn more - and isn't that really all of us - here is the page about grade inflation alluded to, but not fully described, in the NYT piece. The statistics are pretty amazing.

Hat tips: Dan Black and Brian McCall

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