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News Eagle - Hawley, PA
  •  WANDERINGS: Grad inflation, education deflation

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  • †As a society we have allowed our children to believe they are all not just above average but superior.Because weíre afraid to hurt anyoneís fragile psyche, or not be loved, or because weíre afraid of some nebulous retaliation if we arenít soft, we dish out Aís and Bís as if they were scoops of ice cream on a humid day, the equivalent of myriad certificates and trophies for we give our children for showing up so they donít feel "left out" in sports and innumerable other activities.Grade Inflation is rampant throughout the educational system. A recent UCLA study revealed that although students are studying less than ever, grades of A- and A in high school classes are the most common grades. At many colleges, over half the class graduate with some kind of honors, making it difficult to distinguish the truly exceptional from the grade-exceptional.The pursuit in college is of grades, not knowledge, so itís not surprising that students are as adept at cheating as they are in hiding booze in dorm rooms.At the university where I taught, last yearís freshman class had an average SAT of 1004 in verbal and quantitative tests, making their achievement dead-center average for the nation. But their high school g.p.a. Was 3.3, about a B+. Those who donít do well on the SAT shrug it off as "Well, like, yíknow, I just kinda donít do good on tests."At many colleges, at least one-third of incoming freshmen are enrolled in remedial courses. But they and the rest of the student body can graduate within six years by packaging a program of "cake" courses with watered down content.At many colleges, the grades of "D" and "F" officially donít exist; at many colleges, students can even drop classes any time, just so they donít get a (horrors!) "C."In 2004, Princeton established a guideline that there should be no more than 35 percent Aís in freshman/sophomore courses, and 55 percent Aís in specialized upper division courses. Even then, the recommendations, while lowering some of the grade inflation, were still above what used to be a "bell-shaped curve" that once suggested Aís and Fís should be about 10 percent of a general education class; Bís and Dís about 20 percent; and Cís, the average grade, about 40 percent.One of the reasons for grade inflation is that some teachers and professors canít distinguish achievement levels or create tests that require higher level thinking and not a recitation of facts. Another reason is that teachers and profs want to be liked, to be seen as a buddy, who often allow students to call them by their first names and who go drinking in the same places students congregate. More common, there is a strong correlation between semester-end evaluations of professors and grades; high grades by teachers and profs, especially in colleges that use student evaluations for tenure and promotion, tend to propel similar high student evaluations.Because of runaway grade inflation, students avoid professors who believe the grade of "C" is the average grade and who set up standards that require students to do more than show up, read a couple of hundred pages, and answer a few questions. Even then, a significant minority of our students spend more time trying to plea-bargain the professor into raising the grade than they do studying for the exams. If the professor doesnít acquiesce, the studentís parents call administrators whose backbones are as strong as warm Jello and who subconsciously go along with the fiction that because some parent is paying thousands of dollars to send their precious child to college, the college has an obligation not to educate that child but to reward that child with trinkets known as high grades. Thus, some Helicopter Moms are sure that grades of C, D, and F are not their childís fault, but the fault of a system that took their hard-earned money and wonít even do the minimal work of issuing the "right" grade.High grades are important, every student wails, because it means being able to get into college, grad school, or to get a little extra consideration in the job market. But if all students get high grades, then the evaluation criteria becomes meaningless; the exceptional student may get into college and grad school, but so will those who get high grades but arenít as exceptional. Companies hiring freshly-scrubbed graduates may soon disregard not only syrupy letters of recommendation but grade point averages as well.Until we stop believing itís a Constitutional right to get Aís, with Bís seen as acceptable and Cís as failure, as a nation weíll continue to complain about inferior workmanship, and, wonder why the U.S. Ranked 32nd in the world in math abilities and 17th in reading ability, according to a recent study by Harvardís Program on Education Policy and Governance.[Dr. Brasch was a university professor for 30 years. He is an award-winning columnist and author of 17 books, including the critically-acclaimed novel, Before the First Snow: Stories form the Revolution. For several years he was a newspaper and magazine reporter and editor.]Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D.Latest Book: Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution (www.greeleyandstone.com)www.walterbrasch.com
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