The Wisconsin Association of Scholars presented a conference Saturday titled “Grade Inflation and Academic Standards,” featuring academics and scholars from all over the country who disagree on whether grade inflation is a problem on college campuses.
“The standards for grades … have gone down,” said Francis Schrag, a University of Wisconsin professor of educational policy and philosophy. “Just like $10 used to have more value, an A grade is worth less.”
UW Chancellor John Wiley started the event by stating that grade-point averages have been creeping up over the years and that grade inflation is an issue worth looking into.
Essentially, grade inflation is students receiving higher grades than they did in past years. According to UW philosophy professor Lester Hunt, grade inflation started in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Hunt theorizes professors started giving students higher grades during that time than what they would have given previously because around this time, anonymous student evaluations became prevalent and student deferment was introduced due to the Vietnam War.
“Professors would give students good grades to stay in school,” Hunt said. “If the professor didn’t the student would die because he would fail out and go to war … it was a matter of life and death.”
Even though the Vietnam War and student assessments may have inflated grades three decades ago, Hunt added that UW still feels the effects.
“The [grades] rose in the past; it’s still a problem,” Hunt said, adding that since grades began to inflate, no new changes were made for graduation requirements.
“Grades don’t communicate as much anymore; it means that the grades are now compressed,” he said.
Hunt added that Wiley presented a report written by Bruce Beck showing that grade inflation still occurs at UW.
UW professor in philosophy Harry Brighouse said he did not feel grade inflation was a problem at this point.
“Grades don’t tell that much. They tell you something, but not that much,” Brighouse said.
He also noted the change in students over the past decade since he has been teaching at UW.
“UW-Madison has become more selective over the past 10 or 12 years, so you would expect grades to improve.”
Schrag also argued that grade inflation was not a big problem.
“Different instructors think of grades differently. Some people think it is important to distribute the grades, and others don’t have a problem giving [a lot of A’s],” he said.
Even though some of the faculty that partook of the event had different feelings on the issue, commentator at the conference David Beito of the University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa thinks grade inflation is a problem that needs to be dealt with.
In a proposal he supports, Beito would counteract grade inflation with a system that would rank students in each of their classes, with one being the most successful.