Grade inflation on the rise

Kerong Kelly, News Editor

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Grade inflation is on the rise at the University, causing the administration to consider plans that will reevaluate its methods of grade distribution.

Grade inflation is not a new trend at the University or nationwide. At the University, the historical average GPA has increased from 2.9 in 1977 to 3.4 in 2006 (see graph, courtesy of Professor of Geography & Environmental Studies Ben Marsh). According to gradeinflation.com, GPAs nationwide have increased by 0.1 to 0.2 points per decade, which is consistent with the University’s shift.

“It’s like debasing a currency—I had always wondered, ‘so what happens?’ We run out of the capacity to tell the students that they are good or bad,” Marsh said.

There is a discrepancy among the different academic departments regarding how grades are decided, highlighting the absence of a truly normative scale. This absence implies that the grades students receive do not necessarily reflect their effort, understanding, or interest in the subject matter.

Divisional trends at the University have shown that arts and humanities disciplines have typically seen higher GPAs by at least 0.2 points than other disciplines, such as the natural sciences and mathematics. Few systematic changes address this upward shift in GPAs. It is important to note that average GPAs vary dramatically by division and by department.

“We are in the process of organizing faculty and student focus groups to discuss various aspects of these issues (grade inflation and engagement), but no specific actions have or will be made until the multitude of issues, actions and consequences can be fully discussed and considered both by the faculty and by the student body,” said Timothy Raymond ’97, associate professor of chemical engineering and chair of the Committee on Instruction.

For the first time, in a joint effort between the Committee on Instruction (a faculty advising body of the University) and its student counterparts, a discussion has started in hopes of addressing grade inflation.

About six years ago, the University launched a committee to reevaluate teaching. One of the conclusions of this faculty committee was to limit the weight of student evaluations. The University is also currently in the process of completing a Middle States Self Evaluation and site visit, a study that occurs every 10 years. The purpose of this self evaluation is to assure that the University is achieving its learning goals.

“The real question that I think we are trying to focus on is: what are the implications of this [grade inflation] on our students and on learning? I posed a question to our faculty—is there learning inflation? By that, I meant, do we think our students are learning more?” Provost Mick Smyer said.

There are several possibilities and routes of action the University could take to combat the problem of GPA inflation. The University could decide not to take action and see if the trend levels out. Other schools such as Princeton University have set limits or quotas on the number of A’s that are awarded to students. Nationally, the A and A- range is the most common combination seen across colleges. Another method to reduce grade inflation is to provide additional information about class rank and average score in the class on transcripts.

“I think Bucknell wants to think of themselves as forward-thinking and as challenging traditional ways. As a result, we have a lot of professors who are not adopting this new ideology of making the numbers count less to make students feel as though they are being identified as more than just percentages,” Jen Mok ’15 said.

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