A’s for All!

by James A. Bacon

Grade inflation in American universities is a well-documented phenomenon. Nearly half of all grades handed out at Harvard are A’s. The average Grade Point Average (GPA) at the University of Virginia, having drifted steadily upward over the past 30 years, is moving higher at an accelerating rate. One possible explanation — in defiance of the downward trend in standardized test scores in K-12 education — is that the kids are just so darn smart! They deserve the A’s!

Another explanation points to the obsession with equality and self-esteem, and to the attendant collapse in standards that would differentiate between excellence, mediocrity and failure.

The question arises in a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education which profiles a controversy at James Madison University. Six economics professors told the Chronicle that their annual evaluations have been penalized because they are handing out too many D’s and F’s.

Kirk Elwood, professor of economics, received correspondence from the administration that stated the following:

You have received low evaluation scores on some sections. There are too many Ds and Fs and overall GPAs are too low. …

Please work to meet students where they are in terms of skills and preparation and provide remedial and extra assistance as need in order to reduce the number of D and F grades. Continue to adjust course material and delivery to improve grades and evaluation scores.

“There was no attempt to evaluate what was going on in my classrooms,” said Scott R. Milliman, an economics professor. “The point was, my GPAs were too low, period. And it didn’t matter whether there was integrity to those grades or not.”

My take: Administrators are consistently setting lower expectations, and students are fulfilling them by studying less and whining more. Professors who set high expectations suffer in student evaluations and are pressured to give students what they want — better grades with less effort.

But that’s just me. Read the article and decide for yourself.