An Empirical Examination of College Students Requesting a Reduction in Grades: With Implications for Grade Inflation, University Administration Values, and Evaluation of Faculty

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INTRODUCTION

Grade Inflation is a serious problem in American schools and universities. Grade inflation can be documented to be a serious problem both in high school and in college. Regarding high schools, a CNN Headline News report dealt with data obtained by the Higher Education Research Institute. The findings showed that while study time is down for high school students, A's are up. Students are studying less than ever, but making more grades of A than ever before (CNN Headline New, 2003)

For college students, a recent study at the University of Alabama is very typical of many colleges. At that university, studying undergraduates only, there were 22.6 percent grades of A awarded from 1972-1974. However, in 2002, the percentage had jumped to 31.1% While some of the improvement could be correlated with improved ACT scores among the students (indicating better students in recent times), at least part of the improvement is feared, by many faculty, to be nothing more than the willingness of faculty to be very lenient in giving a grade of A(CASNET, 2003).

Eisenman (2000) showed that not all disciplines are equally responsible for grade inflation. His data from one university showed, as many suspected, that education professors are especially likely to award A's relative to faculty in other departments. Some education faculty seem to give out A's like they were peanuts.

WHY DID GRADE INFLATION OCCUR?

Why did grade inflation occur in the first place? While we do not know for certain, a good speculation is that it was concomitant with students becoming more concerned with their education in the 1960's. As students became members of committees with professors and as course evaluations became required, the voice of the student became important in deciding the future of a professor. A non-tenured professor who got bad student evaluations might find that he or she would lose their job. Professors got the message and realized that they needed to avoid student complaints, since student evaluations of faculty is often tied to the grade students get. One sad part of this is that education that challenged students by giving them hard tests or forcing them to think would now take a back seat to more entertaining education, and to easy tests where many could make A's and B's (Sojka, Gupta, & Deeter-Schmelz, 2002). It was a job survival issue for many faculty. So, ironically, a mostly good thing-students becoming concerned about their education--ended up having the negative consequences of grade inflation since the student voice could now cause a professor to lose his/her job. There are obviously ramifications and repercussions of grade inflation as will be discussed in this paper.

WANTING LOWER GRADES?

One issue is the concern of students who are honest and may object to the amount of inflation in their grades. These individuals may be "few and far between". The Greek scholar Diogenes reportedly went about the city looking for such an honest man. Honest students, in this sense, in the colleges and universities across the United States may be similarly "few and far between".

As we all know, every year, in colleges and universities across America, and literally the world, college students come to faculty offices to complain of their grades. They may have gotten a "C" but feel that they deserve a "B". Still others have procured a "B" but feel that they need an "A". In some cases, these students have failed, but feel that they earned "at the very least a 'C'"

On the other hand, instead of just grade inflation, on occasion some professors may have mistakenly given a student a higher grade than they have earned. This research attempts to investigate this sorely neglected area of research in educational psychology. It is apparent, at least to these authors, that the other side of the coin needs and bears examination. That is, are there students who indicate that they have received a grade which they do not feel they deserve? …