learn more when the grades they get accurately reflect what they've
learned in the course.
just over 15 percent of first-year college students carried A
averages in high school. By 2001, the portion had jumped to 44 percent,
according to an annual UCLA survey of college freshmen. Ironically,
those high grades require few hours of study. Nearly 85 percent of high
school seniors spend 10 hours per week or less on homework. Clearly,
there is grade inflation in high schools, and students entering college
expect to continue getting high marks.
do. High percentages of college students graduate college with honors
these days. Even graduating with a 4.0 is no longer unusual. Yet, according
to the National Surveys of Student Engagement, another large study,
the amount of time that college students spend hitting the books outside
of class doesn't coincide with their good grades. Only 21 percent
of college seniors spend more than 20 hours per week preparing for class.
that students learn best when grades accurately reflect their achievement.
Grade inflation can be controlled by establishing certain procedures,
such as a standard grading scale. For example, 90 percent and above
is an A, 80 to 90 percent is a B, 70 to 80 percent
is a C, and 60 to 70 percent is a D. For an
A, the work should be outstanding, and to receive a B,
it must be of professional quality. In your syllabus, define your grading
scale and refer to it during the semester.
there shouldn't be much wiggle room, you do have to be flexible
when there is good reason. For example, if a majority of students fare
poorly on an exam and complain that it was too difficultwhich
often means they did not have enough time to complete ityou can
adjust all the test scores upwards by revamping the grading scale. For
instance, if the highest grade in the class was an 88 (out of a possible
100), you might add 12 points to every score.
averages for the year are between 30 to 50 percent or lower, up to three-quarters
of the class could flunk. It is obviously best to give exams that are
of reasonable length and difficulty, but final grades can be adjusted
to reflect the reasonably achievable score in the course. You can determine
this score from the second or third highest grade in the course. Thus,
if one outstanding student achieves 882 points during the semester (out
of a possible 1000), but the next two highest scores are 698 and 690,
use 698. (Give the student with 882 points an A+ and ask
him or her to do a research project with you.) Then award grades based
on the grading scale you choose, starting with 698 as the highest achievable
score, rather than 1000. For example, if you use a 90-80-70-60 A-B-C-D
scale, the lowest passing grade becomes 60 percent of 698 or 419 points.
A more generous 80-70-60-50 scale (with the lowest passing grade at
349 points) uses the 50 percent rule, in which students
must earn at least 50 percent of the achievable score to pass the course.
and fairness, faculty members should discuss grading and share grade
distributions for each course. We know professors who want to give lower
grades but don't because they think everyone else is awarding higher
also stop punishing students in departments that control grade inflation.
Basing university honors and other awards strictly on GPA puts students
in those departments at a disadvantage. Graduate and professional schools
and companies that hire new engineers must allow for differences in
institutional quality and grading standards when making those all-important
admissions or hiring decisions.
inflation, like inflation in the economy, can be controlled. Perhaps
universities need to follow the lead of the Federal Reserve, whose primary
function is to keep inflation in check.
Wankat is head of interdisciplinary engineering and the Clifton L. Lovell
Distinguished Professor of chemical engineering at Purdue University.
Frank Oreovicz is an education communications specialist at Purdue's
chemical engineering school. They can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.