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ISSUE 119 VOL 10 PUBLISHED 12/2/2005

Grades inflate unfairly

By April Wright
Staff Writer

Friday, December 2, 2005

Grade inflation was first documented in a Harvard study in 1894. One hundred and eleven years later, professors and students are asking: Is grade inflation an issue at St. Olaf? The answer seems to be “yes.”

There is nothing wrong with handing out A’s and B’s on assignments and tests – if those A’s and B’s actually reflect the quality of the work. Grade inflation occurs when a professor gives out an undeservedly high grade in a class when sub-par work gets the same credit as work of better quality.

Grade inflation happens for a number of reasons. Sometimes, as is most likely the case at St. Olaf, professors just feel bad giving bad grades to bright students who work hard.

The issue of inflated grades is very hairy because it opens up many other concerns. A lot of people question if it is worse to give unnecessarily high grades in hard classes, or if it is better to dumb classes down so that more people pass.

One alternative to grade inflation is grading on a curve. Curves evaluate grades student to student, not a student’s overall understanding of concepts. Whatever other concerns arise can be addressed, but grade inflation is detrimental to everyone involved and should not continue.

Grade inflation has been addressed at the college this year several times. Several professors have voiced concerns about what handing out undeserved high marks does to students’ academic (and future workforce) careers.

Professors are right to ask that question. Inflated grading harms students. Grades are a way for students to gauge how well they grasp ideas in order for them to locate their weak points and improve for the future. An A on an assignment says that one has mastered a concept, and if the work is actually C standard, then that grade provides false security in one’s abilities.

Uninflated grades promote hard work. When a student has to study hard, or practice or push themselves to get a B, they learn far more than a student who puts in little effort and gets an A.

Students who work hard learn to manage their time better, practice better study skills and ultimately have a more rewarding payoff at the end of the semester. And, working harder prepares one for what the professional world demands.

Grade inflation is a frightening phenomenon in part because of what it implies about our professors. Giving high grades to undeserving students shows that professors do not care.

When a professor is notorious for letting inferior students receive the same grades as their competent classmates, students then have no reason to improve. A professor who offers the chance to fail as well as the chance to pass is more likely to motivate students to do better in class and to work harder.

Students and professors have a choice. We can sit back and allow intellectual stagnation, or we can send a message that we do not want to be shortchanged by our education.

Staff writer April Wright is a first year from Eagan, Minn. She majors in biology and environmental studies.

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