Volume 77, Issue 22
April 21, 2006

Professors Address Grade Inflation

Elm Staff Writer

Grade inflation is a concern nationally for colleges, and WC is no exception. Students and professors recognize that grade inflation occurs on this campus, but how to resolve the issue is up for debate.

"Yes, there is grade inflation, and I don't know how to get around it," said Director of environmental studies Dr. Donald Munson.

Grade inflation is "The practice of schools or teachers to give a greater number of students good grades than actually deserve those grades. Grade inflation is perceived by some to be problematic for schools because it is seen as a dilution of standards," according to Webster's Online Dictionary.

"[Grade Inflation] is a concern for the school as a whole," said Business Chair Michael Harvey. "The issue is complex because each division has a different median grade—from the lowest median in the natural sciences, to a middle median in the social sciences, to the highest median in the humanities. It is not clear what this distribution means."

"The first priority in grading a student's work should be the aim of giving a student a frank and candid evaluation of his or her work presumably violates this obligation," said English Professor Thomas Cousineau of the English Department.

Professors are under pressure when it comes to grading, and there are exceptions.

Munson said, "Is it worth it if half the class leaves because [the class] is too hard? What do you do if a poor, shaky student who can't afford any more Ds or they won't graduate deserves a D? Do you give a C- to get them out? Or if a hardworking student does a bad thesis, what do you do?"

English Professor Bob Day said there is no truth to the rumor that he participates in grade inflation.

"No, but I accuse myself of it," he said. "I like to think that is because I am teaching better and to better students...What am I to do: give a poor grade for a stupid mistake here and there? That seems pointless."

"I don't think that you'll find many professors who approve of grade inflation in theory," said Katherine Maynard of the French Department. "In practice, though, it's a balancing act. Since so many institutions engage in grade inflation, there is a silent pressure to give higher grades so our students can compete when they apply to graduate and professional schools.

"I still argue, though, that maintaining high expectations for student work is more beneficial to students in the long run," continued Maynard.

The more positive outlook is that students are more hardworking and intelligent than in years past.

Donald McColl, Curator of the Society of Junior Fellows said, "SJF had to increase the required GPA from a 3.2 to 3.6, but that's not necessarily due to grade inflation."

"Yes, the college's GPA has gone up but we can't immediately jump to saying it's inflation," said Dean Joachim Scholz. "The percentage of National Honor Society students in the student body has increased very significantly."

In the early to mid-1990s, however, about 25 percent of the student body was on the Dean's List. Now, 40 percent are on the Dean's List.

Students have mixed feelings about the subject.

"I think it depends on the professor," said junior Emily Storm said. "I have definitely had professors whose assignments I do not even have to think in order to do brilliantly. But then there are those classes for which I have to work really hard to get the grade I want."

"I understand grades should be a challenge, but if you make it impossible to get an A, it's discouraging," said sophomore Sandy Ropelewski.

"After three years here, I do not feel I have personally seen grade inflation in any of my classes, nor do I feel it is a problem on this campus," said Junior Dave Hieber.

But there are students who think grade inflation is a problem.

"I have seen it here, and I think it is bad because it doesn't reflect your work and it prevents you from doing well in more advanced classes," said sophomore Brigid McCully.

So how do students earn an "A?"

"For me, an A is the exception rather than the rule. It represents outstanding work and, I give an A only when a student has far exceeded my basic expectations for coursework," said Maynard.

Harvey agreed. "It's very hard to earn an A from me—it requires work that is smart, thoughtful, and polished to a very high degree. I'm not a hard grader, in my opinion, but I strive to end up at about a 3.0 average grade," he said. "That is true for my department as a whole."

"I look for papers and exams that have range; they bring in other material—not only from other English classes, but from other departments in the college," said Day. "I also look for good, expansive, well-written work. My hope is that the exam questions I ask and the paper topics I give let the student learn in the process. I am not interested in catching the student at what he or she does not know."

Even with all this discussion about grades, Munson pointed out, "a grade isn't the only thing in life."