Posts tagged ‘Grade inflation’

October 17, 2013

Trend of high school grades compared to SAT scores

by Grace

Over the long term, average high school grades have gone up while SAT scores have “remained relatively unchanged”.

Average SAT scores going back to 1952, courtesy of Erik Jacobsen, also known as Erik the Red:



The solid circles and triangles represent scores calculated on the recentered scale.

In April 1995, the College Board recentered the score scales for all tests in the SAT Program to reflect the contemporary test-taking population. Recentering reestablished the average score for a study group of 1990 seniors at about 500—the midpoint of the 200-to-800 scale—allowing students, schools, and colleges to more easily interpret their scores in relation to those of a similar group of college-bound seniors.

By 1995, average SAT scores had drifted downward before recentering brought them back up.


The effect of recentering was to raise SAT scores for almost all tests taken before 1995.  For example, a 540 verbal score from pre-1995 is equivalent to a 610 by today’s standards.  The impact of recentering was smaller for math, with a pre-1995 math score of 540 translating to 560 today.  All scores can be converted by using the CollegeBoard table.

(A comprehensive history of the SAT and ACT tests going back to the late 1800s is also provided by Erik the Red.)

What about high school grades?  Have they also declined over time?  No, in fact they have risen, especially for students with lower standardized test scores.

…  Studies from ACT and College Board, the companies that run the two preeminent college-entrance exams, show GPAs increased while scores on the standardized ACT and SAT did not, a phenomenon they say likely indicates inflation. ACT estimates the average GPA inflation was about .25 on a scale of 4.0 between 1991 and 2003, though the 2005 study’s authors believe even that number understates the actual amount of grade inflation. Whether from hard work or grade inflation, GPAs grew the most for students with lower standardized test scores, and the least for those with higher scores on the SAT or ACT.


Another source indicates evidence of high school grade inflation over the long term.

Camara, Kimmel, Scheuneman, and Sawtell (2003) investigated grade inflation by using self-reported grade data and SAT scores for eight cohorts of college-bound students. The trend of average HSGPA over time was examined to investigate grade inflation. The authors found that 2002 high school grade point average “far exceeded” the grades students reported in 1976, whereas the SAT-V and SAT-M scores remained relatively unchanged.


June 5, 2013

Quick Links – Private schools in decline; ‘A stands for average’; give college kids the old towels

by Grace

While “run-of-the-mill private schools and colleges” are dying out, elite institutions are still going strong.

Private education as we have known it is on its way out, at both the K-12 and postsecondary levels. At the very least, it’s headed for dramatic shrinkage, save for a handful of places and circumstances, to be replaced by a very different set of institutional, governance, financing, and education-delivery mechanisms.

Consider today’s realities. Private K-12 enrollments are shrinking — by almost 13 percent from 2000 to 2010. Catholic schools are closing right and left…. Traditional nonprofit private colleges are also challenged to fill their classroom seats and dorms, to which they’re responding by heavily discounting their tuitions and fees for more and more students.

Meanwhile, charter school enrollments are booming across the land. The charter share of the primary-secondary population is five percent nationally and north of twenty percent in 25 major cities. “Massive open online courses” (MOOCs) are booming, too, and online degree and certificate options proliferating. Public-sector college and university enrollments remain strong and now educate three students out of four….

What’s really happening here are big structural changes across the industry as the traditional model of private education — at both levels — becomes unaffordable, unnecessary, or both, and as more viable options for students and families present themselves….

Top-tier private schools are flourishing.

…  elite private institutions are doing just fine, many besieged by more applicants than ever before. The wealthiest Americans can easily afford them and are ever more determined to secure for their children the advantages that come with attending them. And at the K-12 level, a disproportionate fraction of those wealthy people live in major cities where the public school options are unappealing. So we’re not going to see an enrollment crisis anytime soon at Brown, Amherst, or Duke, nor at Andover, Sidwell Friends, or Trinity….


College grade inflation – ‘A stands for average’

…  In the last half-century, all but a few of American colleges and universities have, in effect, abandoned grading. Consider the history of grading at the University of Minnesota, which is one of the better state universities. As one observer puts it, “In 1960, the average undergraduate grade awarded in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota was 2.27 on a four-point scale.,” and now 53% of the grades given are  A’s.

In other words, the average letter grade at the University of Minnesota in the early 1960s was about a C+, and that was consistent with average grades at other colleges and universities in that era.  In fact, that average grade of C+ (2.30-2.35 on a 4-point scale) had been pretty stable at America’s colleges going all the way back to the 1920s (see chart above from, a website maintained by Stuart Rojstaczer, a retired Duke University professor who has tirelessly crusaded for several decades against “grade inflation” at U.S. universities).

By 2006, the average GPA at public universities in the U.S. had risen to 3.01 and at private universities to 3.30.  That means that the average GPA at public universities in 2006 was equivalent to a letter grade of B, and at private universities a B+, and it’s likely that grades and GPAs have continued to inflate over the last six years.

Since 1998, as Mark J. Perry points out, the average grade given in most classes taught at American colleges and universities has come to be an A. Witness the headline in the Twin Cities Star Tribune: “At U, concern grows that ‘A’ stands for average.”


Send the old towels to college with your kid.


It only took me three years to realize this, but I should buy new towels for myself and send the old towels to college with my kid.

My kids usually trash their bath towels within a few months after getting them.  I don’t know how or why, but their new towels quickly develop mysterious stains, pulled threads, and frayed edges.  Meanwhile, the towels I use stay pristine and fluffy for years.

So I will no longer buy new towels for my kids to use at college or at home.  I will simply hand over my gently used ones to them.  Then, at the end of the school year my college kid can throw away his old towels, saving him from having to haul them back home.  Problem solved.  I finally learned.

May 15, 2013

Quick Links – College grade inflation; understating federal cost of student loans; trends in physical education

by Grace

College grade inflation

Forty years ago, only 10 percent of grades awarded by Yale College were in the A-range. Last spring, that percentage was 62.

Yale is reviewing its grading policy.

“If B-plus is being kept for bad work, and virtually everyone is getting A or A-minus, this eliminates any genuine feedback,” Kagan said. “I’ve always thought this is a disservice to undergraduates.”


The federal government systematically undercounts the cost of student loans by ignoring market risk.

… the federal government’s accounting practices systematically understate the cost of student loans by failing to account for market risk. A superior method called “fair value accounting,” which is the strong preference of academic economists and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), would show considerably greater costs due to the risk associated with expecting loan repayments….

However, almost all economists believe that the way the federal government accounts for student loan costs is simply wrong. Under the principles of “fair value” accounting, which the CBO endorses, the discount rate applied to the revenue from students’ repayments should be much higher than the rate on U.S. Treasuries. A higher discount rate would reduce the present value of those repayments, thus increasing the cost of the student loan program to the government.

The reason the discount rate is higher is because it incorporates the price of market risk into cost estimates, while current accounting practices ignore that risk. Students might pay back what the government predicts they will, but taxpayers must cover the full cost of the loan regardless. Since defaults tend to occur when the economy is weak, taxpayers face the risk of losing expected funds at a time when budgets are least flexible.

Thus, the government’s budgetary estimate reflects only part of the fair value cost of offering a student loan. Additional cost comes from the risk that loan repayments will be lower than expected.[6] The federal government should use a higher discount rate to reflect the risk that expected loan repayments will not materialize.[7]

This reminds me of how state governments consistently underfund pension obligations, inflating discount rates to hide true taxpayer liability.


High school PE classes focus more on activities that will continue through to adulthood, including work-outs at fitness centers.

High schools are installing gyms for PE.

Forget dodge ball, squat thrusts and being picked last for the team. Today’s high-schoolers are more likely to get a workout in what’s becoming a must-have tool in physical education: a state-of-the-art fitness center.

Less focus on team sports and more emphasis on developing fitness habits that will last a lifetime

“There’s a lot of people who aren’t on the Scarsdale High School football team, and yet they want to be healthy,” he said. “I would anticipate using the treadmill and the machines for gaining muscles.”

There’s a new crop of physical education teachers coming out of college who are preparing to reach students, such as Gale, who don’t just want to learn to play a sport, said Robert Schmidlein, a professor of physical education at Manhattanville College.

“It’s a paradigm shift,” Schmidlein said. “People don’t play team sports when they get older. Less than 1 percent of the adult population plays team sports. Seventy percent of kids drop out of youth sports by age 13. No one should be teaching team sports at the high school.”

“Fit for Life”
Our local high school offers PE students a choice between two options for each class unit, with one usually involving a team sport and the other involving a fitness activity like yoga or running.  While we don’t have a Scarsdale-level fitness center, we do have a small selection of treadmills and elliptical machines.

March 15, 2013

One hundred ideas for reforming higher education

by Grace

The National Society of Scholars has compiled One Hundred Great Ideas for Higher Education.

Despite the wide variety of suggestions, the list naturally organizes itself into a few common themes. Some of the themes are frequently mentioned in higher education circles, while others are rather surprising or novel. The most frequently cited category of suggestions called for some sort of renewed emphasis on the study of Western civilization, American history, or the classics of Western thought. Some of the other frequently discussed topics concern improving students’ writing skills, increasing transparency, combating political bias or correctness, and raising standards (including ending grade inflation).

In skimming through the list it’s hard to pick favorites, but here are a few that seem sensible.

This one addresses grade inflation.

Richard Arum, Professor of Sociology and Education, New York University
Colleges and universities could administratively address the problem of declining academic rigor by instituting a simple change: for every course a student takes, the student’s transcript would report the individual grade received as well as the average grade students received in the course. The transcript would also report the overall grade point average (GPA) of the student as well as the course grade point average (CGPA).

Without impinging in any way on either the ability of individual faculty to grade students as they choose or the freedom of students to select courses as they see fit, this administrative reporting change would make readily apparent whether a student excelled at coursework, or instead excelled at choosing a path through higher education that held students in relative terms to lower academic standards. Incentives for faculty to grade leniently and for students to choose easy coursework—which has led the academy in recent years to a “race to the bottom”—would be significantly reduced.

Examining post-college transitions of recent college graduates, Josipa Roksa and I have found that course transcripts are seldom considered by employers in the hiring process. Transcripts would be significantly more meaningful with this simple and relatively costless administrative reporting change. If colleges and universities did not have the political will to make such changes on their own, access to federal financial aid dollars could be made dependent on institutional compliance. More than one-third of college students today study alone for their classes less than an hour per day and yet are able to achieve a 3.2 GPA. Parents, employers, and students have a right to know how this type of college success is accomplished.

Teach students how to write.

Lawrence Mead
, Professor of Politics and Public Policy, New York University
The great scandal of American education is that students can complete their schooling without learning to write correct prose. Even at the college level, and at good schools, most students cannot write even a page of text without committing some error of grammar, usage, or spelling. This is apart from content. The reason is that their teachers—from kindergarten all the way through—have little interest in correcting these errors. Either they themselves don’t know how to write, or it’s too much work.

Professors have no personal or professional interest in whether their students write well, so they ignore the problems and pass students along. College writing programs have little impact on the problem. But once on the job students quickly discover that the boss is their coauthor as their teacher was not, demanding that they be able to write letters or reports that he can sign without embarrassment—or be fired.

I recommend instituting a writing exam that undergraduates must pass to graduate from college, with rules for grammar and usage defined in advance. Ask students to respond to some essay question in, say, five pages, without outside help. Allow students some very small number of errors, or fail them. Have a nonprofit body—funded by all colleges and universities—that would operate separately from coursework correct and return the papers to students with errors indicated.

Allows students to take the test any number of times, but make the number of attempts to pass part of their academic record. Publicize these results by school, with the goal that they will eventually be factored into U.S. News & World Report rankings.

There are pros and cons to student evaluations, but they seem to have contributed to lower standards.

Jonathan Imber
Jean Glasscock Professor of Sociology, Wellesley College; Editor-in-Chief, Society
Many colleges and universities today use student evaluation questionnaires to evaluate a teacher’s performance. The origin of this seemingly benign tool has much to do with its abuse as a weapon of conformity. The student protesters of the 1960s demanded greater “participation” in the life of the university. Administrators saw an opportunity at appeasement that also translated into a mechanism for oversight, which in the long growth of university administration means the production of ever more information about everyone and everything. Students could be part of the process of “democratically” supporting or opposing such decisions as tenure and promotion.

The result has been granting permission to students to offer anonymously any kind of opinion they want to express, however inane or cruel. Of course, teachers ought to be able to take it, but consider how profoundly the reversal of fortune now is: it was once expected that students ought to be able to “take it,” that is, to respond to tough standards, to hard lessons, to failure, to anything that might contribute to the building of character. Now, the students must be treated carefully, and the teacher has been put into the dock. To improve teaching, abolish student evaluations of teachers.

Hmm . . . I think I like two out of three of these ideas.

Tom Wolfe
, Ph.D., American Studies, Yale, 1957; Author, Back to Blood
Three changes would make their college years more valuable to students:

1. Cut undergraduate education from four years to two. Oxford and Cambridge have only three years, and most Oxbridgers consider that one year too many. Four years marinates students in two years of entertaining sloth, creating unwanted habits much more difficult to remove than unwanted hair. Two years will put even the “greatest” universities on par with community colleges, benefiting both. Imagine how many eyes will open up like—swock!—umbrellas when they discover that community college students take the content of courses far more seriously than university undergraduates. Both will graduate with bachelor’s degrees, greatly increasing the value of a community college education.

2. Limit the curriculum, over the two years, to remedial education and core subjects—without ever uttering the words “remedial” and “core.” All students will be forced to take courses in history, rhetoric, algebra or statistics, biology, and sociology. Needless to say, the word “forced” is not to be mentioned, either. Rhetoric will slyly include basic grammar and drills such as parsing sentences—in addition to basic training in prose styles. “Grammar” and “drills” will be taboo terms, too.

3. Male students will have a dress code requiring long-sleeved cotton shirts (ties optional) and conventionally cut jackets—e.g., no jacket collars wider than the lapels—whenever they are on campus. Female students will abide by a dress code that, without saying so, makes it impossible to dress in the currently highly fashionable (among young women) slut style.

If the students complain that these codes make them look different from most other people their age, the reply is, “Now you’re catching on.”

September 7, 2012

College has become easier according to data on studying and grades

by Grace

Based on declining study times and rising grade averages, college has become easier.  Among other reasons, it may be a natural outcome of the increased economic and academic diversity on campus.

Over the past half-century, the amount of time college students actually study — read, write and otherwise prepare for class — has dwindled from 24 hours a week to about 15, survey data show.

And that invites a question: Has college become too easy?…

Measures of learning corroborate declining study time measures.

The finding has led some critics to question whether college is delivering on its core mission: student learning. Sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa identified lax study as a key failing of academia in their 2011 report “Academically Adrift,” which found that 36 percent of students made no significant gains in critical-thinking skills in college. Arum’s own research found that students study only 12 hours a week.

Anecdotal information from college professors and employers seem to confirm these findings.

Full-time college used to be a full-time endeavor.

Evidence of declining study was mostly ignored until 2010, when two University of California economists brought the issue to the fore in a paper titled “Leisure College, USA.”

Philip Babcock and Mindy Marks unearthed previous research, part of a longitudinal study called Project Talent, that showed students of 1961 spent about 24 hours a week studying.

They calculated that those students spent another 16 hours in class time, or 40 hours in total weekly scholarship, giving college, for them, the feel of a full-time endeavor.

By contrast, the typical student today spends 27 hours a week in study and class time, roughly the same time commitment expected of students in a modern full-day kindergarten.

In place of studying, many students are working.

“They’re working full time and going to school full time, which I think is absurd,” said Joe Scimecca, a sociology professor at George Mason. “I asked a class recently how many were working, and there were only two who weren’t.”

Dixon, the sophomore from Haymarket, is majoring in tourism, works 23 hours a week at a campus information desk, commutes up to two hours a day and volunteers at church.

“My planner is a wreck,” she said.

Which schools rank higher in study time?  Not the ones you might guess.

Colleges that rate high in study time are typically small liberal-arts schools, often set in remote locales. Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., and Centre College in Danville, Ky., all report more than 20 hours of average weekly study for freshmen, seniors or both….

What sets such schools apart? Pedar Foss, dean of academic life at DePauw, found clues sprinkled across the student survey. DePauw students almost never work off campus, care for relatives or commute long distances. DePauw seniors are twice as likely as students at other schools to read at least 11 assigned books in an academic year. They write more than their peers.

“They’re held accountable for how well they can speak, and how well they can draw upon evidence, and whether they know what they’re talking about,” Foss said.

It also depends on your major.

Another key to study time is one’s choice of major. McCormick, director of the student engagement survey, analyzed 85 majors and found a 13-hour spread in average weekly study. Architecture students studied the most, at 24 hours a week. Further down the list, in descending order: physics (20 hours), music and biology (17), history (15), psychology (14), communications (13) and, at 11 hours, parks, recreation and leisure studies.

I have a friend with a son who is studying architecture, and from her description he is at the lab all hours of the day and night.  When I was in school engineers spent the most time studying, something we gauged based on hours spent in the library.

This Is College Getting Easier infographic shows speech majors spend the least amount of time studying.  It also shows that the most common grade given by colleges today is an ‘A’.

read more »

January 10, 2012

Getting smarter or grade inflation? – College grades have improved since 1960

by Grace

With an increasing percentage of A’s being “earned” in college classrooms, are we to conclude that students are getting smarter?  Or are we experiencing grade inflation?  A new study by Stuart Rojstaczer and Christopher Healy that examines grades over 69 years suggests the latter, a finding consistent with results reported by the authors of Academically Adrift.

Findings/Results: Contemporary data indicate that, on average across a wide range of schools, A’s represent 43% of all letter grades, an increase of 28 percentage points since 1960 and 12 percentage points since 1988. D’s and F’s total typically less than 10% of all letter grades. Private colleges and universities give, on average, significantly more A’s and B’s combined than public institutions with equal student selectivity. Southern schools grade more harshly than those in other regions, and science and engineering-focused schools grade more stringently than those emphasizing the liberal arts. At schools with modest selectivity, grading is as generous as it was in the mid-1980s at highly selective schools. These prestigious schools have, in turn, continued to ramp up their grades. It is likely that at many selective and highly selective schools, undergraduate GPAs are now so saturated at the high end that they have little use as a motivator of students and as an evaluation tool for graduate and professional schools and employers.

Conclusions/Recommendations: As a result of instructors gradually lowering their standards, A has become the most common grade on American college campuses. Without regulation, or at least strong grading guidelines, grades at American institutions of higher learning likely will continue to have less and less meaning.

Increase in A’s correlates with two enrollment factors

In considering the possible causes of more A’s for college students, two opposing factors come to mind.  One is the overall increase in the percentage of high school graduates who enroll in college.  Expanding higher education opportunities for more youngsters has probably created a pool of students less academically prepared than those of recent generations, a reason often given for declining SAT scores but inconsistent with the increase in better grades.  Another competing factor is the higher proportion of women attending college.  From elementary grades to college, females earn higher grades than males do, so the increase in A’s could be related to this.

Higher overall percent attending college

More women attending college


September 16, 2011

Lackluster results of state-sponsored merit scholarship programs tied to grade inflation?

by Grace

The results of two state-sponsored college merit scholarship programs are not very impressive.

Merit-based aid programs provide financial assistance to highly academically qualified students entering college regardless of financial need. Merit-based strategies have been adopted by several states with the goal of improving college access and retention rates among the highest achieving students. Several studies of merit-based financial aid programs have concluded that these programs increase college enrollment, but evidence of their impact on degree completion, particularly in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields, is scarce. A study by Liang Zhang entitled, Does Merit-Based Aid Affect Degree Production in STEM Fields: Evidence from Georgia and Florida, examined changes in baccalaureate degree completion in two states with well-established merit-based financial aid programs….

The preliminary findings of this study show that state-wide, merit-based financial aid programs may slightly increase baccalaureate degree completion overall, especially for women, but major impacts on STEM fields in particular do not exist. It will be important for policymakers and higher education institutions to consider these data as they evaluate the efficiency of merit-based aid strategies in attracting students to certain fields and improving overall educational attainment levels.

The programs in the study use high school grades as the primary criteria for awarding scholarships.  Two of the three Florida awards  are granted to students with SAT scores below the 50th percentile.  The Georgia HOPE scholarship has no SAT score requirements, only that students graduate with a 3.0 minimum GPA.

Given the grade inflation observed in high schools, I suspect that low academic requirements partly account for the lackluster impact on college completion rates.

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