Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Amid Cries of Grade Inflation, C's Still Abound

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Amid Cries of Grade Inflation, C's Still Abound

Article excerpt

When 9 out of 10 Harvard seniors graduated with honors last year, it was proof to some that grade inflation was rampant in American higher education. A spate of reports that followed affirmed the growing threat.

Now comes a new study by the US Department of Education suggesting that the hand wringing may be much ado about not too much.

According to "Profile of Undergraduates in US Postsecondary Education Institutions: 1999, 2000," a national study released this summer, the mediocre grades of C-plus and lower are alive and kicking.

About 34 percent of the 50,000 undergraduates at 900 institutions surveyed earned C's and D's or worse, the study reported. About 41 percent earned B's and C's or mostly B's. Meanwhile, 26 percent earned A's and B's or mostly A's.

On its face, this breakdown may seem unremarkable.

Yet the study contradicts other reports, including one this spring by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, that say grade inflation is widespread. The AAAS report cites a raft of academic studies documenting grade inflation back to 1960 and recounts estimates that just 10 to 20 percent of undergraduates get a B- minus or worse.

"There's been this series of reports all saying the same thing - that grade inflation is running rampant - and now this [Education Department] report makes that appear more questionable," says Jacqueline King, director of the Center for Policy Analysis at the American Council on Education.

Others agree. A spokeswoman for the Association of American Colleges and Universities told the Chronicle of Higher Education recently that the new report "debunks all the furor over grade inflation."

Overall, the strength of the Department of Education report is its breadth. But it's also a snapshot of just one year and does not track grades over time to see if they ratchet upward, as have some smaller studies. Still, it is the proportion of students receiving high grades or poor grades that, on the face of it, doesn't appear to be in sync with the more alarming findings in smaller studies, Ms. King says.

"It's typically been studies at a small number of institutions, primarily highly selective research universities and liberal arts colleges, that have produced this belief that grade inflation is widespread," she says. …

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