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ISSUE 119 VOL 15 PUBLISHED 3/24/2006

Chairs deal with grade inflation

By April Wright
Staff Writer

Friday, March 24, 2006

Grade inflation has been a heavily discussed issue on campus this year. Most departments agree that grade inflation is an issue, but are dealing with it in different ways.

Paul Zorn, professor and department chair of mathematics said, "If you look at the last twenty years, it becomes problematic."

Zorn added that it was not clear to him that there had been inflation over the past few years.

Other departments do not necessarily see problems within their own systems, but acknowledge the problem not only at St. Olaf, but nationwide. Departments are monitoring the issue.

The problem most department chairs cited with inflated grades is the inability to separate students by the quality of their work.

"We want people who get good grades to earn them," said Kathleen Shea, professor and department chair of biology.

Mary Steen, professor and department chair of English, echoed this sentiment.

"If everyone is getting As, what do you do with the outstanding work? We don't have a grade higher than A+, and we don't want to devalue a high GPA," she said.

Kris Thalhammer, professor and department chair of political science, agreed with Shea and Steen, adding that the situation is "confusing for the students, confusing for graduate schools and confusing for honors."

With a wide range of departments, it is not a surprise that there is a wide range of opinions on how to handle the problem. The most common trend among professors is to be aware and to discuss.

"We’re conscious of it. It’s been a topic of faculty discussion," Zorn said.

Shea has a similar plan of action.

"We’re making people more aware of it and saying that we need to be aware that it’s a trend, and we need to be aware of how we’re grading," she said.

Other departments felt that the problem needed more direct action. According to Janice Roberts, professor and dance department chair, the dance professors are bringing in their class materials and "discussing them and looking for commonalities."

Dan Dressen, department chair of music, had a similar strategy. He wants to "engage performance faculty in discussion about their too-high grades." He added that he has "encouraged teachers to use syllabi" to outline expectations for letter grades. Still other professors, such as Thalhammer feel the issue "needs to be dealt on a campus-wide basis" to foster a sense of consistency. This opinion was shared by other professors, but at the same time, many noted the difficulty in finding one solution that can work for multiple department types.

There has not been any mention of specific, concrete measures to combat grade inflation; however, the steps taken recently have, in some departments, led to lower grades.

Lynn Steen, professor of mathematics and special assistant to the Provost said that this fall’s grades were disappointingly low for some students.

"Most department grade averages were a bit lower than last fall," Lynn Steen explained and said that there had been an increase in student and parent complaints about grades.

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