Grade inflation a concern among ULV faculty

Steven Falls
Web Editor
Tom Anderson
Arts Editor

In a survey on the issue of grade inflation conducted among professors at the University of La Verne this semester, roughly half of those responding indicated they believe that grading standards here have been gradually dipping, and that could be a reason for what looks like improved overall student performance.

Those faculty members who believe grade inflation goes on here claim its presence has diminished the value of high academic marks, as efforts that might have netted students a C or a B 20 or 30 years ago might earn them an A by today’s standards.

“To lower our grading standards is doing our students a disservice,” said Kent Badger, professor of health services management at ULV. “I think we need to maintain rigorous but fair standards.”

The survey, a questionnaire sent to a random sampling of faculty members in February, was conducted through campus mail.

Thirty six percent of those surveyed also said they believe that the grade point average increase relates directly to a decline in course expectations and grading standards by instructors.

“I do think professors are responding to pressure to make grading easier,” said Paul Alvarez, professor of movement and sports science in his survey response. “However, I also think that they are getting smarter in how to assess and students are trying harder.”

Fifty-seven percent of faculty who responded said they believe that professors today are putting increased emphasis on tasks such as small essays, quizzes and take-home tests rather than on midterms, finals and term papers.  This emphasis shift, they said, may also make it easier for the average college student to achieve higher overall course grades.

This “seems to be the growing trend everywhere,” one respondent said. 

John Bartelt, associate professor of education at ULV, said he feels that breaking down subject matter within the course into smaller quizzes, etc., is a good thing for the students.

“I personally do break assessments down into smaller chunks and I try to use ‘authentic assessment’ wherein students can be assessed (by rubric) in the course of a prepared presentation or assignment,” Bartelt wrote in his survey response. “There is less inherent stress for students that way and it is much more fair to students who really do know the material but who are lousy test takers.”

Bartelt added: “I don’t find much value in testing for what I call the bulimic method of learning (cram it in, spit it out),” he said. “There are plenty of other ways to demonstrate knowledge.”

“All students do not learn the same,” Alvarez said. “Through multiple assessment methods, professors have a greater opportunity to see what students have really learned.”

Alvarez added that he feels that these methods of assessment make it easier for the average college student to achieve a higher grade in a course. “Midterms and finals only show who can handle the pressure of high stakes testing.”

Bartelt attributes the grade point increase not to a decline in course expectations nor an increase in student academic performance, but to a gradual shift in grading methodologies by professors across the country.

“Back in the day, the academic trend was to grade on a curve,” Bartelt said. “A certain percentage of the class got a certain grade.”

Bartelt said he suspects that an increasing number of professors around the country are beginning to grade on the basis of what is called ‘criterion-referenced,’ with the simple goal of measuring how thoroughly a person has learned a specific body of knowledge.

Bartelt suggested that grading on a curve does not actually display how much knowledge a student has absorbed.

“If you were enrolled in a section with a lot of really smart students, you might fail the course, whereas if you had enrolled in a section with less capable students, you might pass,” Bartelt said. “A passing score would only be relative to how others in the group performed.”

So instead of lower academic standards or increased student performance, a shift in teaching methodologies from grading on a curve to criterion referenced could possibly be a reason for increasing GPA’s, some respondents said.

Still some feel another possibility for the increasing grade point averages could be the level of education that certain students are entering college with. These students then enter college with unsatisfactory college preparatory skills in which case certain professors then feel the need to re-teach skills to these particular students that to bring them up to speed with class content. At the same time, students already possessing the necessary skills are subjected to content they are familiar with, essentially making the course an easy “A.”

Andrew Barnes, an English teacher at South Hills High School in West Covina said that the No Child Left Behind Act, signed by President Bush on January 8, 2002, directly affects the quality of instruction that students receive at the high school level.

“It creates an urgency for teachers to lower standards to ensure that no child is left behind,” Barnes said. “The result of this is a generalized lowering of the educational guidelines and goals for a student.”

Bartelt added: “The No Child Left Behind actually enacts goals for everyone to perform above average which of course is statistical impossibility.”

“There is a clear distinction between today and the past,” said Jay Jones, professor of biology and biochemistry at ULV. “You have to deal with what you are getting because students are coming with much weaker preparation.”

Jones suggests that professors feel the need to lower their grading standards to a degree in order to get particular students up to speed on course criteria.

“There is pressure to step back to provide less than what the college level expects,” Jones said. “A lot of faculty, especially those that aren’t tenured, teach with that in mind.”

There are, however, others here who feel students are simply becoming smarter, and that colleges and universities have become more focused on helping their students succeed. Another possible factor is the increased number of individuals who are choosing to pursue a higher education, meaning that while more people may be earning good grades overall, the averages are actually being driven lower. Additionally, many also feel that the size and scope of the grade inflation phenomenon is exaggerated.

“I don’t think it’s a problem or an issue,” said Fred Yaffe, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of La Verne.

Whether grade inflation is present or not within the University of La Verne or the rest of our country’s universities is purely speculative and can be sometimes over-hyped and over exaggerated. What is important is that the professors, instructors, deans and presidents at La Verne care for the well being of the student body enrolled at ULV.

“ (Faculty members) care and they put in a lot of hours here, creating personal relationships is where we really excel,” Jones said. “ULV is a special place.”

Regardless, the issue of grade inflation, or steady GPA increases, is not limited to the University of La Verne. According to studies released by other universities, grade point averages in private and public universities and colleges across the country are gradually rising. One Web site, www.gradeinflation.com, posted a study, which indicated that student grade point averages have risen .15 points in the past fifteen years in both private and public schools.

Steven Falls can be reached at sfalls21@msn.com.
Tom Anderson can be reached at tanderson1@ulv.edu.


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Posted May 11, 2005
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