Sunday, October 28, 2007

Grade Inflation - Who Loses? 

Most people who have any connection with education institutions are aware that grade inflation is a topic of discussion. Resolving the issue is not. After getting inflated grades in high school and earlier, students enter universities believing they are very bright and entitled to high grades there, too. The author of this article in The Economist attributes inflated grades at the college level to a reaction to time pressures on professors and teaching assistants. Since the students all think they are very bright (and some are) they question any grade not an "A." As the author implies, it is just easier to give a high grade than spend the time and hassle defending a legitimate lower grade. However, there is far more to the problem than avoiding hassles.

Who loses?
First, the student loses because he/she believes that a high grade means they have learned something. Not necessarily so - too often grades are "given" vs "earned." The student has a poor sense of how much talent and effort it takes to be an "A" student, one that performs significantly above average. He hits the non-academic world and cannot understand why he is not rated the best employee since the 1800's.

The parents lose because they have been given an over-valued assessment of their Johnny or Susie. They believe their kid is able to take on anything because their grades are really high. Then Johnny or Susie returns home because they cannot compete in or cope with the real world. Parents also lose because they are paying taxes to support a system that in many instances does not teach what students need to succeed. Our system today has few repercussions for poor performance or bad behavior. The real world does not have "do-overs" on exams.

Employers lose because they think they are hiring someone with certain knowledge, responsibility and decent work ethics. Instead they get new employees who are often lazy, incompetent, and lacking in the ability to work well with others, yet have an over-inflated perception of themselves.

Our nation loses because these students have not been taught to think critically, do not know basic facts on which to base arguments, and have low personal standards for such basic habits as consistently showing up for work on time. Students from other nations often know more and work harder than US educated students.

We are in a global economy whether we like it or not. The attitude towards academics on most of the planet is to learn everything one can. This means learning the basic foundations of math, science, and real history (not just the guilt-driven issues of the West). My foreign students from Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and South America have drive and reasonable expectations. Our last 40 years of coddling US students, making excuses for aberrant behavior and grade inflation have resulted in far too many "graduates" knowing less, expecting more, and running home to mom and dad when things do not work.

As always, there are exceptions but my contacts in industry are very, very concerned about the quality of college graduates today. Since this post is getting long, I will document suggestions separately.

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