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    The Causes And Consequences Of Grade Inflation
    By Enrico Uva | June 11th 2012 02:00 AM | 49 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Enrico

    I majored in chemistry, worked briefly in the food industry and at Fisheries and Oceans. I then obtained a degree in education. Since then I have...

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    Grade inflation is common. It knows no borders, occurring in public and private schools, at the elementary level and in Ivy League universities. It is a serious problem, and yet I have rarely heard a frank and open discussion about the matter.  Here's an insider's look at both the consequences and causes.

    A- The Consequences Of Grade Inflation

    1. Within elementary and high schools, grade inflation leads to improper placement of students. Kids who have so far displayed only mediocre ability end up in difficult science and mathematics classes. Eventually they get turned off and some develop long lasting hangups towards science, whereas if they had been placed in a more appropriate level, they would have stumbled less and learned more, and they still would have been able to eventually enroll in more rigorous courses.

    2. When no one fails a subject, problems are possibly being swept under the rug. Many teachers have always set up evaluation schemes so that a good worker who has the prerequisites should not fail. But so much can happen despite the best intentions: students slip in between the cracks and get into a course without the necessary background; some get overconfident and procrastinate; they get depressed over relationships; get over-involved in activities or are often absent for various reasons, or they hit some kind of intellectual wall and don't have the persistence or motivation to get around it. But if all is made too easy, the student is never obliged to make adjustments to life's curve balls, and they are not redirected to a more suitable or remedial avenue.

    3. Inflation blurs the landscape for college admissions offices. It can be argued that colleges are guilty of accepting too many students. In our province, for instance, 46% of young adults between the ages of 18 and 20 are in college.  But when so many high schools have 40% of their seniors on honor rolls, the few colleges that do not constantly increase their quotas have no choice but to lift the cutoff point for accepting students. In an atmosphere of pumped-up grades, some marks may be more exaggerated than others, which allows some weaker students to be accepted, and more deserving ones to be unfairly rejected. 

    4. When the majority of specialty college programs or university graduates get A's, industry has little basis for hiring someone. The following examples are anecdotal, but I don't think they were unusual in an atmosphere of no grade inflation. Two guys I knew since high school were at the top of their class in electrical engineering at McGill University in the early 1980's. They were both recruited on campus, and they proved to be excellent choices because the department had good standards. Without the latter, industries have to resort to subjective interviews, their own testing and possibly patronage.
    In my chemistry program, summer jobs were given to students who had the highest grades in a quantitative analytical laboratory course because to get the right result, one had to be dexterous, meticulous and know how to handle the raw numerical results. No one could perform the experiment for you, and you could not copy off someone else because everyone received a different unknown.

    5. When students see that numbers can be manipulated and pumped up, it sets the stage for future "creative accounting" in their own personal and/or corporate lives. Schools are a microcosm of society, so if we plant the seeds of bad habits, they will some day create more monstrous examples within our economy or even within a research environment.

    B- The Causes of Grade Inflation

    1. Millions of parents have the monotonous expectation that their children will become university graduates. Marks have become tickets to that sometimes unrealistic goal. This expectation pressures the school system into "printing" as many tickets as they can to let students enter the next level. Meanwhile, we experience a shortage of tradespeople because we are too busy granting an overabundance of impractical degrees (31% of 2008 Canadian degrees were awarded to the humanities, sociology and soft sciences) and many of the life science degrees are awarded to students who are only using them as second attempts to get into medical school. Yet excellent 3 year specialty programs are completely overlooked. One of many examples is that due to low demand by students, there is only one program in our entire province that trains them to work in the plastics industry. Yet the industrial demand is there: 100% of the graduates get a job immediately. The percentage is almost as high for a program that trains medical lab technicians.

    2. Schools are in competition with each other and use marks to market themselves. Depending on the quality of the school, this leads to varying degrees of indirect or not-so-subtle pressure into churning out high grades.

    3. Education departments create marking policies that lead to unintended consequences. Here are some examples:
    a) The passing grade in our province was 50% several decades ago, and it was lifted to 60%, hoping to raise standards. But in more subjective marking courses, the same poor quality exam paper that was graded as a 50%, was merely re-branded as a 60%. Overall averages climbed but reflected no real improvement in the quality of education.
    b) More recently, to encourage more lab work in science courses, 40% of the overall grade has to have a practical component. But the lab exams, unlike theory, are not standardized, and in most schools, the lab reports and tests simply serve to inflate grades.
    c) No zero policies dissuade teachers from giving zeros for blank papers. Luckily these highly dubious ideas are being challenged and abandoned in some provinces. 

    4. Too often the so-called "hard-markers" are stereotyped as being callous to the impact that low grades can have on young, impressionable minds and how, when handed out early in the year, they prevent students from having a fighting chance. The reality is that the "hard markers" have always been a minority, even in the absence of overall grade inflation.  Teachers who realize they're in the business of both coaching and refereeing, both of which need outside input, both of which need separation at the time of grading, are more likely to be objective markers. 
    5. Insecurity on part of teachers who are either not tenured or teaching in areas outside of their expertise makes them more likely to inflate marks, either deliberately or unconsciously. It takes experience to create and balance challenging tasks with easier ones. What makes matters worse is that many teacher-training faculties currently use a fuzzy, sociological approach towards teaching and marking and evaluation.

    6. Bureaucracies occasionally implement poorly tested programs that place students at a disadvantage. In response, some educators, with good intentions, overcompensate for poor organizational design that is beyond their control and consequently mark too leniently.
    7. It's easy to get away with inflating grades. Most people will not complain about something that seemingly favors them, even if it may be unfair to others. Besides, their vanity may blind them from the fact that there's something wrong in the first place.

    From the NY Times:
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    Comments

    callous! :) that is the precise word for this ;-)

    "Teachers who realize they're in the business of both coaching and refereeing ..." This dual function is one of the flaws in the current global system of education. A teacher should be a coach at the human level. A machine should teach repetitive drills. A grade giver should be a referee. Separate the coach/referee functions and make maximum use of computers and other teaching machines.

    UvaE
    A machine should teach repetitive drills. 
    With adolescents and even with some adults, machines are not great at motivating people to do repetitive tasks. A machine won't inject humor into a situation; it won't read body language and ask why you're looking tired today etc; and it won't provide the companionship of a peer who is doing the same work.
    It could, however, correct multiple choice without error, provided it's programmed with the correct answers.
    Enrico, you missed what is perhaps the most important cause of grade inflation: the idea that somehow a bell curve (relative comparison between a population of students) is a valid measure of competency and a valid selection tool.

    The higher you go in education, the more likely it is NOT. For example, if students are are selected for a college based on their general ability to understand and perform on basic college-level courses, then that selection procedure has already restricted the range (see "range restriction" in statistics literature) to those that are competent. You would expect nearly every student to do "A" or "B" level work in EVERY college entry-level course, and see little variation in performance until their later years.

    The problem isn't so much "grade inflation" as a general misapplication of a "grading" system, applying it to situations and populations where what is being measured by "grades" probably should not be.

    Perhaps the biggest problem is a failure of educators to understand what they are really measuring (and what they aren't), the tools they are using to measure with, and what tools they aren't using but should be.

    The fact is that "grade inflation" may sometimes be the distortion of a misapplied tool toward a more accurate and appropriate concept "competency".

    UvaE
    I'm aware of bell-curve misconceptions, but the problem is beyond that. 
    The fact is that "grade inflation" may sometimes be the distortion of a misapplied tool toward a more accurate and appropriate concept "competency". 
    In principle, the competency-concept seems to be a better means of assessment. But try applying it, and it becomes extremely subjective. If you are willing to share an in-class experience of having marked by competencies successfully, I'm all ears.

    You've never heard of a frank an open discussion about this for the simple reason that it is a figment of your imagination and obvious limited research.

    UvaE
    You've never heard of a frank an open discussion about this for the simple reason that it is a figment of your imagination and obvious limited research. 
    Wow, I must have an awfully active imagination, and if you work in a school where none of the above occurs, please hire me!

    From the NY Times
    \



    The median overall GPA of a graduating senior in electrical engineering at my alma mater--UW-Madison--in 1961 was between 2.1 and 2.2, well in agreement with the 1960 curve in the NYT article. Today, I understand that the median overall GPA in EE (now ECE) there is well above a 3, probably 3.3 or higher.

    ETS, the firm that writes the SAT tests, claimed the the highest mean raw scoring of the SAT tests of that era occurred way back during 1962, and the comparative mean raw scores of SATs since have been considerably lower for nearly a half century already.

    Just some anecdotal information...

    Gerhard Adam
    Perhaps I'm off the mark here, but it seems that the issue of grade-inflation occurs because we mistakenly assume that people are in school to get an education rather than simply acquire credentials.

    While there are undoubtedly people that are dedicated to learning and putting forth tremendous effort, I would argue that the majority of people are in school because (1) they are required to and (2) they believe there is a direct correlation to getting a "good" job.  As a result, they don't particularly care what they learn, just so long as they get good grades doing it.

    Call me cynical, but I think this is still a case of appearance over substance.

    I looked up this breakdown of expenses for Harvard this year:
    http://admissions.college.harvard.edu/financial_aid/cost.html

    At an estimated cost of $62K per year, let's guess whether it's intelligence or money that is the determining factor in who attends?
    Mundus vult decipi
    Hello, Can-knucklehead:

    Its not quite what seems down here. Its not about having beaucoup dollars.

    In reality; premier admissions to premier Ivy's in the states is even more stupid and surreal than that.

    Nobody, I mean nobody, pays full freight at Harvard, unless you're a legacy, or Hollywood or a retired Dem Senator with a pricey consulting gig.

    Anymore, it's all about diversity down here below the 49th parallel. Harvard has a gargantuan endowment and hand selects it's students. As you suspect, but unlike for the reason you would imagine, they cherry-pick their student
    Think of our dear leader here in the US A classic affirmative action baby. He went to the big time Ivy's. Mixed-race, son of a single mom with an absent Marxist father, and maybe barely broke 1000 on his combined SATs. Given his circumstances, a veritable Einstein. Fits every feel-good box there is. A complete shoo-in.

    That's what passes for the best and the brightest down here.

    Gerhard Adam
    Stop your patronizing bullshit.  I live in the states, so you can stop pretending that you know what you're talking about.  Yeah, I get it.  You thought Bush was a genius, and Obama is a socialist. 

    It's embarrassing that even a relatively neutral topic like this brings out the partisan nitwits with their various axes to grind.
    Mundus vult decipi
    You touch on it with a needle, credentials vs. education are just one such force at work.

    My son set out on the Ivy track and succeeded landing at Penn the coming term. Had just one "B+" appeared in his four years of HS his entire plan might have fallen apart. I could not believe the levels of technology, peer efforts to enhance acceptance odds, analysis tools (plot charts based on comparable school performance vs. selected applicants for example) brought to bear. Grade inflation is just one predictable outcome at the higher end of those competing for scarce resources. In different ways this follows all downstream all the time. Grades are just one
    element.

    Does anyone seriously knowing the system think Elizabeth Warren didn't understand the importance of checking the "Native American" box on various applications? The article is interesting but incomplete and not properly scaled. Grade inflation is just an outgrowth of a broader and more cynical competitive trend line in a de-industrial age where socially one group (college bound) has a vast desirability factor. In another part of the culture you go to fashion model auditions or sports training camps, you'll find the same winner-take-all programing comparable to grade inflation there as well. Grade inflation has to be viewed in these contexts.

    Dubious Virtue
    I am unsure about the USA but in Australia there are issues with students now being clients - clients pay for a service.

    In my own experience I have failed papers due to plagiarism (two students handing up identical papers in one example) only to have the head of school over turn me and ask the students to resubmit - even though the university's policy is for the student to fail the subject.

    Other students realise that so long as you hand something up you will pass - this disheartens them and they ask "What's the point of trying to do well?'

    So everybody passes and to offset that you tend to then mark slightly higher those that have actually done some work. Was it actually distinction work? Not really - high credit. But half the class have handed up papers bordering on gibberish or with obvious plagiarism and they get a pass. Is it really fair that the others get a credit when in comparison their work is of significantly higher quality?

    And then there's whole classes of full fee paying students who have failed. The head of school then asks the lecturer to walk through the exam with the class who will then resubmit the exam.

    Neither of us work at a university any more.
    Gerhard Adam
    Whether it is fully recognized in that form isn't probably far from the reality in the U.S.   Most parents take a dim view on anything that will affect the transcripts or "credentials" if it can be viewed by someone considering them for a job or some advancement opportunity {i.e. college admissions}.  To me that reinforces the idea that even then, most parents aren't interested in the education as much as they are in what "doors" may be opened as a result of fortuitous circumstances.

    In fact, that would be an interesting experiment to conduct.  Take a sample of middle schoolers and a sample of high schoolers, including their parents.

    Have them each answer the following question.

    (1)  Knowing that you have failed a subject, you can choose your own grade.  Would it be a failure (F), passing (C or 2.0) or top grade (A or 4.0)?  Ask this of students and parents.  I would wager that you've have few takers on the failure side.  In fact, I suspect you'd have the overwhelming majority in the middle [after all, they wouldn't want to appear greedy].

    NOTE:  Failure would require repeating the class.
    Mundus vult decipi
    UvaE
    Gerhard, you've reminded me of the following: 
    One of my former colleagues, now retired, was a superb teacher who had first worked as a chemist in the pharmaceutical industry for about eight years. After about a dozen years of teaching,  he took night courses towards a special ed certificate. One of his professors had asked this class of teachers to grade themselves. And it wasn't an experiment! He actually believed in self-evaluation. They all gave themselves A's, except for my friend, who gave himself a B.

    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Other students realise that so long as you hand something up you will pass - this disheartens them and they ask "What's the point of trying to do well?' So everybody passes and to offset that you tend to then mark slightly higher those that have actually done some work. Was it actually distinction work? Not really - high credit. But half the class have handed up papers bordering on gibberish or with obvious plagiarism and they get a pass. Is it really fair that the others get a credit when in comparison their work is of significantly higher quality? 
    Well I'm at Southern Cross University in Australia doing a Social Science degree majoring in Counselling (though I'm currently taking a year or two off before completing my last 3 units) and I can confidently say that I know several students who have failed several subjects, even after writing quite decent assignments, just from not very carefully following and satisfying the marking criteria. So no one on my course ever assumes that they will pass just by handing in an assignment. 

    Also you imply that you are giving students  higher marks than they should have earnt, giving distinctions when they should have been credits etc. I notice that you don't mention high distinctions because from what I understand, when we are given high distinctions for an assignment they are often, if not always then sent to external  markers, possibly at other universities I'm not sure, for verification? So are you also saying that this high distinction external verification system is also dubious or didn't even exist at the Australian university where you worked?
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    UvaE
    So are you also saying that this high distinction external verification system is also dubious or didn't even exist at the Australian university where you worked? 
    No. Actually, it sounds like a very good system.
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Actually Enrico, I was asking Michael Blackwell who says he was a marker at an Australian University. I thought all Australian universities had to do this external verification of high distinction assignments but maybe I'm wrong or maybe Michael and other markers at his university very rarely awarded high distinctions because of this? I'd really love to know, I hope he replies.
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Dubious Virtue
    This was nearly 10 years ago for undergrads. And there were no external verifications.
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Thanks for replying Michael. So maybe that is why we now do have these external verifications in place for at least the high distinction assignments because the previous system 10 years ago was not working properly? Do you know?
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Dubious Virtue
    I was just wondering when and why the system was implemented - can't help I'm sorry.
    Dubious Virtue
    "just from not very carefully following and satisfying the marking criteria"

    I suspect there are also shifts in response to criticism regarding marking. Many many years ago I studied Art History at Flinders. This course had come under a lot of criticism for being an easy course. They tightened up marking - a huge chunk of people failed and very few high marks were handed out.

    I replied below about the external verification system but I'm wondering how new it is?


    Grade inflation is a problem, but will eventually correct itself if left alone. When parents and students eventually realize that the student can make more money with an industrial welding certificate from a trade school than with an honors history degree from an Ivy League school, then the pressures causing grade inflation at the expensive colleges will fade away. Besides, the welding certificate is cheaper and the quality of the student's skills is easier to ascertain (just look at the quality of his welding projects).

    Hfarmer
    The problem that people saw college as a solution to was that "industrial welding" type jobs were being outsourced overseas, or done by robots.  
    Where we went wrong was the idea was for people to go to school to learn how to service and build the welding robots.  People did not wan to admit that doing highly technical work has always been the job of a very few people. 
    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
    Hfarmer
    This is an overall good breakdown of the consequences and causes.    Allow me to give another perspective on this.  
    Whenever a minority of color in the USA hears the terms "grade inflation" in the back of our heads we hear "too many non white people are graduating".   Perhaps, some grumbling about affirmative action.  I mean that almost literally.  

    Just for the heck of it, and the edification of some relatives who had not seen my graduation I walked in the commencement ceremony at DePaul yesterday.  An undergraduate there who I had helped or tried to help actually did grumble upon seeing me.  He was the only one, but people like him exist.  Sometimes they get into positions of power where they can write about "grade inflation" upon seeing someone they feel is beneath them get a degree.   These same people then write about how "Too many people are getting PhD's?" 

    We need to be vigilant in any discussion of grade inflation for any sign or suggestion of bias on any basis.   A return to educational practices of the past...to many sounds like just that.  Since times before about 1970 women and minorities were a rarity in higher education outside of certain all women institutions and HBCU's. 

    A related and possibly bigger problem is "credential Inflation". 


    Cause:
    Many business have a Human Resources department staffed primarily by people who went to school to learn how to manage human resources, or manage businesses etc....but they have never worked in the actual business they do .  This is true across the board.  These people don't want to actual review transcripts, resumes, publication list, CV's or resume's so their first step is to set a cut off based on the degree level attained.    This wasn't so bad when the cutoff for most occupations was a BS or even an associates.   Then access to education expanded to more women and minorities and poor people in general.  This meant that more people had a BS.  Suddenly it wasn't a labor saving device for HR professionals.  A BS was no longer a exclusive cut off.  Then to get a job one needed to MS then a PhD in some things one would not expect it in.  

    Consequence:
    At the commencement ceremony for Depaul I attended this Sunday the young lady behind me was graduating with a MS in nursing.  I congratulated them.  She talked about how many hospitals will only look at you if you have at least a MS in nursing.  I ran the above theory about the cause of this situation by them and they agreed.  

    Latter I brought this conversation up with my mother who has been an RN since 1978.  She had a full and rewarding career with an associates degree.  Everything else she learned on the job or through various continuing education programs.  She related to me that she once worked with someone  who has a PhD in nursing...only to make almost the same money as her....and the job is no different.   As she put it "someone has to empty the bed pans".  

    Grade inflation may also be a consequence of credential inflation.  As more people had the opportunity to get a BS or BA the degree lost value.  As the degree lost value so did the separate components, courses, which lead up to the degree.  If the person who gets a grade inflated BS will still have to try to get a MS or PhD which cannot be inflated (As long as an appropriate capstone project is a critical part of getting the degree) then an instructor may well just let them pass.  The other option is to fail them, leave them with tons of debt, and unable to find work in an economy where an associates or eek  high school diploma have been hopelessly devalued. *

    TL:DR  While grade inflation is probably real.  We must all be careful that anything done to address it does not just reinstitute old, bad biased and discriminatory practices.  Credential inflation is the bigger problem.  Solve that problem by somehow mandating that job requirements need to be reasonable to the task.  In an extreme example... Mc Donalds should never require more than a 9th grade education just to get in on the ground floor.  Being manager should not need  a MBA.*

    *Ok the MBA may be an inflated masters degree. 
    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
    MikeCrow
    These people don't want to actual review transcripts, resumes, publication list, CV's or resume's so their first step is to set a cut off based on the degree level attained.

    I think it's simpler than this, I work in a degreed field, and got my education in a vocational education program in High School. This has never been a limit to me, except when looking for a new job. Consider an HR representative looking to hire say 5 people, getting 100 resumes, where 20 or 30 have PhD's, if you were looking for high quality people in a degreed field, wouldn't you pick from the PhD's first?
    Never is a long time.
    Tony Fleming
    Actually Enrico this is an insight into education that tallies with my experience over the years and I think it also  gels with my daughter's experience as a teacher of arts and multimedia at a private boys school from juniors, age 9, to seniors, about age 16 (year 10 in Australia). So she goes across the spectrum of education (arts and maths and computing to a certain degree).

    I've found that over the past forty years the marking has become easier in order to place kids in programs for other than direct educational reasons.  Jane my daughter gets a few handicapped kids who need some form of education other than what happened several decades ago in my youth where placements were smaller and courses much more focused. Although she complains about the need to look after these 'special needs' kids I think she feels it's got its own reward, and is an insight into the widest range of human capability. 


    By the way, her school is attended by some very affluent parents so there's a need to look after these special needs kids not from a low economic base but the upper middle class. These kids are probably on their way to some very high status positions in society in the near future, so these more gifted kids ALSO get an exposure to a broad based system instead of being locked into some ivory tower of total misfits that we sometimes see in positions of power.

    So, like an extension of basic evolution where the struggle for survival is seen, we see civilization and learning is more about taking care of those less gifted mentally and physically.


    It's probably a measure of a certain inclusiveness across society that such kids can get a school-based level of education rather than being locked in at home and therefore being ostracized to some extent. In Australia, our marking for the general certificate of education on leaving school is nothing like it was in my day and is based around no-one 'failing' and leaving school with a sense of doom and gloom. So, reasons other than pure education.

    In my cynical moments I've sometimes maintained that governments probably use education as a means of lowering the unemployment rate. And this is OK, too.  Education is the best way to overcome endemic ignorance and poverty, as well as providing training for particular courses. We need to see this in rural parts of Africa and Asia, and the various 'stans (Pakistan, Tadjikistan, Afganistan etc).  

    To take an example, if Stephen Hawking had been disabled and wheelchair bound all his life (which fortunately he wasn't) it is likely he would have been unable to study cosmology etc. 

    In my more moderate hours, I see that education is and should be something that goes beyond mere learning for a later direction such as Uni, or some particular career path. 

    In other words civilization and socialization can be taught via education.  




    Tony Fleming Biophotonics Research Institute tfleming@unifiedphysics.com
    Mr. Uva -

    While I share your concerns about grade inflation, I do not share your perception of a liberal education in the humanities. You display a myopia all too often seen among those in the "hard" sciences - whatever that term might mean.

    I wish to draw your attention to Dr. Robert Oppenheimer - surely one of the greatest scientific minds of the past century. After his team had completed the Manhattan Project and successfully tested the "device" at Trinity, he then campaigned against the use of the bomb on Japanese cities. In this, he displayed a stunning naivity so often seen among scientists and technocrats - i.e. they lack social, political, and cultural contextual framing.

    Once the bomb was complete and in the process of shipment, Oppenheimer's "Use By" date was well-expired. Yet, Dr. Oppenheimer could not see this because of his scientific ego. In 1944, he and his like-minded colleagues would have been able to have some leverage. By August 1945, any leverage had evaporated.

    UvaE
    The humanities are a key component of any education, but I'm not so sure it's a good idea to have millions of people majoring in them, especially when the standards are so low and the cost is so high.
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Where is your evidence that the standards in humanities are so low Enrico? Are you just talking about America and Canada? Also, these graphs that you have published showing the percentages of grades awarded to students over the past 5 decades are not really comparing eggs with eggs are they? When I did my first degree in the late seventies and early eighties only about 5% of the population went to university and they tended to be either the rich kids from socially advantaged people who paid for their university education along with the really smart kids who made the grades at high school and then got free government grants and subsidies. Nowadays in Australia at least, politicians are aiming to have 50% of the population paying to go to university and its already somewhere around the 30 to 40% mark I believe, so comparing the grades from these very different populations seems pretty meaningless and pointless to me.
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    UvaE
    ...over the past 5 decades are not really comparing eggs with eggs are they?  
    But the percentage of A's has also been increasing since 2000, when already a large percentage of kids were attending university. Moreover, mark inflation also occurs in elementary and high schools, which have have been attended by all for many decades.

    In 1978, in a high school graduating class of about 500, there were less than 50 of us on the honor roll. As mentioned in the article, it's not atypical for a school nowadays to have 40% of kids on the honor roll. 
    One school I worked at in the 1990's used marks to divide their student population into the A, B and C stream. The grade 9 C-group was very weak in mathematics and science. A look into their records revealed that to save enrollment during the recession when competition was fierce among all-girls Catholic schools , an exception had been made. Many girls who normally would have been rejected with entry math exam scores of 4/10 had been accepted. Yet the overall average of that group was 79%, meaning that about half the weak class was on the honor roll.

    Since then, the school has adjusted its honor roll threshold to 85%. 

    Since you are talking specfically about Australia then you need a look at the full actual picture

    This is the start salaries from ABS (http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4125.0~Jan%2...). Unfortuantely they don't do mid career salaries.

    As a graduate with an ARTS degree starts at $38K and the current 2012 minimum wage is $589.30 per week or close to $31K (http://www.fairwork.gov.au/pay/national-minimum-wage/pages/default.aspx)

    Want to guess what the standard salary for a welder not coded or specialized is .... $34K to $75K and I assure you that it is unlikely to get one at $34K.

    So we have the ridiculous situation in Australia that we are importing labour from overseas to do welding, electrical, plumbing trades etc because children who would have in the past gone into these industries are going on to do degrees that mostly end up near the minimum wage and seldom used.

    What have developing in Australia is not to be admired it is fast becoming a national farce with tradeskill shortage and an oversupply of unemployable graduates.

    UvaE
    So we have the ridiculous situation in Australia that we are importing labour from overseas to do welding, electrical, plumbing trades etc because children who would have in the past gone into these industries are going on to do degrees that mostly end up near the minimum wage and seldom used. 


    We have exactly the same situation in Quebec, and ironically, we are in the midst of a prolonged student strike, led mostly by political science and humanities students who are protesting increases in tuition, even though we would still have the lowest fees on the continent if the gradual 7 year hike would be  implemented!
    Education is the one thing people pay for that they actually want as little of as possible.

    Racial discrimination, discrimination on the basis of race, i.e., "affirmative action" aka racial discrimination is one of the biggest drivers of grade inflation. It is a shameful state of affairs.

    Hfarmer
    Affirmative action only gets people into school most people who are pure "affirmative action" cases and not qualified simply don't make it.  I have seen it.  
    If anything non white people  in the USA suffer grade deflation and credential inflation.  Our work has to be A+ level to get an A and a black or brown person with a degree is seen as a threat as your post well illustrates. 
    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
    Tony Fleming
    Second that Hontas; I've seen it too in an Australian context. Happy day when Obama made it. From what I hear almost as good as when Joe Louis beat Max Schmelling in the first round. (Not saying anything about George W. mind you).  
    Tony Fleming Biophotonics Research Institute tfleming@unifiedphysics.com
    UvaE
    The issue has little to do with race or partisan politics.
    Tony Fleming
    CorruptObama??
    Tony Fleming Biophotonics Research Institute tfleming@unifiedphysics.com
    I agree that there has been grade inflation. However, I think the fundamental problem in terms of correctly persons in courses is mandating the approach that people learn concepts per a certain unit of time and that people in the same grade all follow this concept/unit time approach. It is possible with tools like the Kahn Academy to tailor education to the individual.

    Each inidividual is tested rigorously on a given concept. Some learn it it hours, other in days, and some in weeks. Some persons may choose to spend the extra hours to master material they are not yet good at (at compared to other students). Other studens may take a few years and others may not bother at all.

    Basically, the material should be Norm-referenced. This gets rid of grade inflation because you have to master the material to successfully move on and do well with the more advanced material. Everyone has to get the necessary 20 or questions correct to show that they mastered a concept, but no one is prevented from playing with any material they wish.

    I don't see how No Zero Policy contributes to grade inflation. Unfortunately, I think there is a lot of misunderstanding to its application as evidenced by the link you provided.

    All "No Zero" grading is is to take the traditional 0-100 scale of grading and convert it to the 4 point scale.

    A = 4 (100-90%)
    B = 3 (89-80%)
    C = 2 (79-70%)
    D = 1 (69-60%)
    F = 0 (59%-0)

    So any student who receives a 59% or lower on any exam or project technically receives a ZERO on the four point scale, despite it being called "no zero grading." For example, suppose an exam is worth a 100 points and 70% is needed for mastery. One student scores a 90 (90% A, 4.0), another scores 65 (65% D 1.0) and a third refuses to do anything. Under "no zero grading" the third student would receive a 50. Which is an F. Again, in a four point scale this is a zero, despite the nomenclature.

    Now suppose the entire course were to incorporate 10 of these 100 point exams. The student who refused to do any would finish the course with 500 points. Which is still an F. The student still fails. The crucial difference here between scoring all zeros and fifties is that when one would presumably counsel the student say (at the latest) after the 3rd test and the student's grade is 150/300, one could explain that if the student were to score 80s or better on the remaining seven exams (with the last being a cumulative final exam), the student would finish the course with 710/1000 or 71%. Compare this with having scored all zeros and student would have to score perfect 100s on the remaining exams simply to get 70% and pass the course (presuming 70% is required for passing the course).

    I find scoring no lower than 50% on exams and projects isn't grade inflating, and the term "No Zero Grading" is poorly named. Instead I find this system provides a useful means of attending to deficiencies inherent in a full scale (0-100) system and allows for my students to manage to overcome their own deficiencies in a realistic manner.

    Gerhard Adam
    I find scoring no lower than 50% on exams and projects isn't grade inflating...
    Of course it is.  Can you imagine the outcry if people demanded being paid 50% of their wage even if they did nothing?  It's patently absurd.  No work should equal no grade.
    Mundus vult decipi
    >>Can you imagine the outcry if people demanded being paid 50% of their wage even if they did nothing? It's patently absurd.<<

    It is not only absurd, it is irrelevant to education. If the goal is to teach students what it means to earn a wage, then a classroom is a poor substitute for actual employment.

    The classroom is intended to meet specific learning objectives in specific fields, not as a kind of "on-the-job" training. If that is what it should be then there should be a direct monetary incentive for classwork. One ought to establish a school where students are paid for the grades they "earn."

    But if that isn't the intent and objective of education, and because grades are poor substitutes for actual wages, why don't utilize grades for what they are...a means to communicate mastery of an objective. And those that refuse to demonstrate mastery, will receive a zero, on a four point scale, which is 50% of the points attempted.

    Gerhard Adam
    I disagree because you're simply presuming that all failures are equal.  So the student that fails despite putting forth effort and actually gets 50% will have exactly the same results as the student that does nothing.  Why would you assume that it is fine for a student to get 10 out of 20 questions correct as being treated equivalent to the student that got 0 out of 20 correct?

    It isn't a matter of equating grades with wages.  It is the fundamental principle of working to gain a particular level of recognition.  Zero work is NOT equivalent to 50%.  Regardless of how the grades translate within the 4 point scale, the percentages yield a real verifiable representation of the work that someone does.  So, despite your claims, there is a difference between 0%, 30% and 59%.  There should never be a circumstance where a student that actually takes the test and does poorly can receive a lower grade than an individual that does nothing.
    And those that refuse to demonstrate mastery, will receive a zero, on a four point scale, which is 50% of the points attempted.
    Actually I would argue that they shouldn't even receive a 0.  They should receive as much recognition as they gave the subject.  Nothing.  In other words, it shouldn't even show up as an attempted credit.  In fact, I would argue that if you truly got a zero [i.e. no effort] on 50% of the tests you should be automatically dropped from the course with no opportunity to participate in any further testing [the course would need to be retaken].

    To do otherwise would allow me to claim 50% for classes I hadn't even signed up for, since there is no fundamental difference between not signing up and not doing anything if I had signed up.
    Mundus vult decipi
    UvaE
    You're so on target, Gerhard.

    We presently have the nonsensical minimum grade of 24%, inspired by the hypothesis that,otherwise, with no minimum grade, students will have no mathematical chance of passing after a rough start!

    Yet the previous and better system allowed the student to get credit if the student could pass the final exam, even if they were failing previously. In many courses this no longer applies because for most courses the final exam is not provincially standardized and worth very little.

    Any untested idea that seems progressive has a high probability of being implemented in education even if it contradicts the intent of a coexisting policy.

     
    >>I disagree because you're simply presuming that all failures are equal.<<

    Of course they are. All failures fail. It is tautological. If I fail to earn an account because I never presented an offer or because my presentation was dismal and disgraceful, the result is the same...I didn't get the account. There isn't any relevant difference in the final analysis whether or not effort was applied or not. If I were a hunter, it doesn't make a difference whether or not I failed to fill a tag because of incompetence or because I slept in. There still isn't any food on the table.

    >> So, despite your claims, there is a difference between 0%, 30% and 59%. There should never be a circumstance where a student that actually takes the test and does poorly can receive a lower grade than an individual that does nothing. <<

    There isn't any RELEVANT difference in the final analysis, none at all. And perhaps you misunderstood or I wasn't forthcoming. A student who scores 30 out of a 100 and a student who doesn't do anything would both have a 50% in the gradebook. 50% is the lowest any student can possible score. Again, this so that each grade A through F has an equal scale of 10 between grade levels.

    >> In fact, I would argue that if you truly got a zero [i.e. no effort] on 50% of the tests you should be automatically dropped from the course with no opportunity to participate in any further testing [the course would need to be retaken]. <<

    That would be wonderful, if that were applicable to primary and secondary education in the States, where its core classes are mandatory. In fact the charter school in which I teach, which resides in a poor socioeconomic area, has a waiting list of dozens of eager students. I would love to expel a student who doesn't put any effort, and replace them with a student who will. But alas, I am not a decision maker who can make such a decision. Furthermore, I believe my administration refrains from expelling students for lack of effort because we are legally prohibited from doing so. But I could be wrong.

    So the slacker and the imbecile still receive Fs regardless of the difference in their efforts. And neither can be expelled for their poor academic performances alone. But, with "no zero grading," both can remedy their predicaments with applied effort and proper scaffolding and tutoring in their appropriate deficiencies. And that makes all the difference.

    UvaE
    But, with "no zero grading," both can remedy their predicaments with applied effort and proper scaffolding and tutoring in their appropriate deficiencies. And that makes all the difference. 
    But we applied the same remedying options that you are describing prior to "no zero grading". Where's the evidence that the remedial efforts lead to more authentic turnarounds in the presence of your marking system? Are there controlled studies out there, some form of pilot programs, showing the marked advantage of this new approach?



     
    miles
    Enrico,

    All have been said. Thanks for posting this article Enrico- got  good additional insights.

    How do we interpret grades? Do we interpret them at the psychological aspect or at their literal numerical values? Maybe both but then I believe that getting zero doesn't necessarily mean zero knowledge.

     If competency-based grading doesn't work, what does?

     I believe we should also include "accurate interpretation" of grades along with the other factors, competencies being measured, the assessment tools, etc.

    camilo
    UvaE
    There should be more details released---no doubt. But then we have tried that, and the colleges, faced with an overwhelming number of applicants, completely ignore them.