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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Grade inflation on the rise

Like other schools nationwide, grades at GW are on the rise, but not necessarily because students are earning it.

Some officials and faculty members believe that grade inflation is a problem at the University, but have decided not to take action against what they see as a futile situation.

“Everybody recognizes that (grade inflation) is a national problem. The whole grading system is slowly failing,” said Donald Lehman, the executive vice president for Academic Affairs.

The Educational Policy Committee of the Faculty Senate studied grade inflation in 2005, but recommended that no action be taken to specifically change the University’s grading system. The committee concluded that taking action against grade inflation could lead to fewer applicants, reduced retention and less success for applicants to graduate school.

“Grade inflation is a national phenomena, and it is difficult for GW to be the school to lead the way in restoring a more normal grading spectrum,” said Gary Simon, the former head of the Educational Policy Committee, in an e-mail.

But Megan Tisdale, the director of medical school admissions, said in the admissions decisions she makes, students at schools that give out lower grades are not at a disadvantage because she is aware of what schools and what majors are the most grade-inflated in the country.

“When you have lots to look at, you can see the trends,” she said.

According to the 2005 Faculty Senate report, between 1983 and 2002 there was a 0.22 increase (3.03 to 3.25) in the average GPA of graduating undergraduates. The increase ranged from 0.15 in the engineering school to 0.29 in the Elliott School of International Affairs.

Increases in grades at GW mirror national trends. According to the Web site, which looked at grading trends at about 30 schools between 1967 and 2002, GPAs have increased by about 0.15 per decade over the last 35 years.

At GW, some studying the four-by-four plan see the proposal as a way to control grade inflation. Proponents say the plan, which would switch the academic schedule from five three-credit classes to four four-credit classes, say it could counteract grade inflation if classes become more rigorous and are graded accordingly. The schools in the University will be voting on the four-by-four plan in April.

While administrators are no longer looking directly at ways to combat grade inflation, some professors have possible explanations for this national and localized trend.

One possible source of grade inflation at GW is the school’s hefty price tag. She said students here expect to get what they pay for – including good grades.

“Ultimately the grade becomes a type of currency in this kind of institution,” she said. “The more expensive and more popular the school, the less likely it is that the administration or faculty will be able to do anything serious about the problem.”

Soltan said pressure to give out high grades could also stem from a fear of getting poor student evaluations. She said course evaluations can carry considerable weight in decisions of rehiring and tenure.

“In a sense, grade inflation makes most people very happy,” she said. “It’s a lot easier in terms of work load and the psychology of dealing with students to give A’s.”

At least at GW, however, Lehman said he has not seen evidence of professors with the least job security being the ones to give out the highest grades.

“It’s across the board, and everyone is involved,” he said.

Other professors are not as worried about grade inflation. Henry Farrell, a political science and international affairs professor, argues in his blog, Crooked Timber, that higher grades can be indicative of higher student performance, and the higher selectivity GW has grown to become in the past decade.

In an interview with The Hatchet, Farrell said the grade inflation issue is somewhat overblown, and that the current grading system, while inflated, still works well enough to be able to rank students.

Farrell said most employers won’t spend time looking thoroughly at a student’s transcript, and will just look quickly at the student’s GPA. He said even small differences in GPA’s can set students apart from each other.

“You try to figure out what your grades are communicating both to the student and to the future employer,” he said.

Grade inflation debate has mostly stalled at GW, but schools like Boston University, Princeton and Georgetown recently took measures to curb grade inflation. About a decade ago, for example, the faculty at Georgetown University voted on guidelines that recommend that about half the students should be given grades in the B range and 30 percent should get A’s.

Taking measures to drop grades, though, still is rare among schools. And even individual critics of grade inflation say they give out more A’s than are warranted.

“No one wants to be the first person or university to start lowering grades,” Soltan said. “I think I’m somewhat guilty as charged.”

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