Archive for the ‘Grades – Grade Inflation’ Category

Another remote learning casualty: attractive females’ grades … say, what?

November 22, 2022

Here’s one that you might not have seen coming…

According to economic researchers in Sweden:

During the pandemic, as education moved online following the onset of the pandemic, the grades of attractive female students deteriorated. Source



Maybe this is something that we should have expected.

In a long ago HomaFiles post, we asked (and answered) the question:

Do better looking students get better grades?

To answer the question, Prof Robert Kaplan of San Diego State University conducted an experiment:

Faculty subjects were asked to grade an essay written by a student.

A photograph of the student was attached to the essay.

The grade given for the essay correlated strongly with a subjective attractiveness scale evaluated by other judges.

What is interesting is that all the subjects received the exact same essay, and the photograph attached to it was randomly assigned.

Bottom line: Physical attractiveness effects grading

Here’s what’s going on …


According to Douglas Hubbard in “Measure Anything”

This is an example of the so-called “halo effect”

If people first see one attribute that predisposes them to favor or disfavor one alternative, they are more likely to interpret additional subsequent information in a way that supports their conclusion, regardless of what the additional information is.

For example, if you initially have a positive impression of a person, you are likely to interpret additional information about that person in a positive light (the halo effect).

Likewise, an initially negative impression has the opposite effect (the “horns effect”).

This effect occurs even when the initially perceived positive or negative attribute should be unrelated to subsequent evaluations.

For the  most memorable example of the halo effect see Biases: The “halo effect” … rock on, sister!

Be sure to watch the video … it’s priceless.


So what?

Several studies have coined the correlation between attractiveness and grades to be a “beauty premium”.

It accrues when classes are held in person … but losses some of its sway in a zoom call.

It’s as simple as that…

More: Is STEM — the last bastion of academic integrity — now in the crosshairs?

October 13, 2022

Old school science prof fired when students protest his “too hard” course.
In a prior post, we reported on a letter signed by over 500 top scientists ringing an alarm bell re: the current direction in math & science education.

In a nutshell, their concerns:

  • Dumbed down courses to accommodate less well prepared and less ambitious students
  • Opposition to “right” answers and established protocols
  • Grade inflation across the grading range
  • Resistance to enforce minimum “passing” standards

Here’s a case on point…

New York University recently fired a professor after students complained that his class was too hard.

The instructor, 84-year-old Maitland Jones Jr., is a legend in his field who literally wrote the book on organic chemistry.

In a petition to the university, the students complained that Jones did not provide opportunities for extra credit and gave out grades in his orgo class that were “not an accurate reflection of the time and effort” that they had put into it.

Let’s unpack that …

> The prof is too “old school” and by implication, just too old to be teaching woke age students

> Grades should consider “time & effort” expended, not just on  subject mastery.

> “Extra credit”  should be allowed when the fundamental course material is not adequately mastered

> “Alternative performance indicators and constraints” should be considered in the grading process (think: “social promotions”)

The bottom line: It’s yourfault, not mine.


So, how did NYU respond to the student’s petition?

NYU granted the students “the opportunity to retroactively withdraw from the class and thus spare their transcripts from the smear of a low (or failing) grade” …  and fired the legendary prof.


Who’s right — the students or the prof?

A bit surprising (to me), based on a quick Goggle-scan of media reports, the popular support leans for the students.

For example, see NY Magazine: “The Whiny Grade-Grubbing NYU Students Have a Point

The essence of the pro-student argument…

> Prof. Jones is, in fact, too damn old.

“It’s not exactly hard to believe that an 84-year-old might not be the most engaging and accessible instructor for students who were born in 2004.” Source

> The pandemic handicapped students’ prior learning and eroded their study skills.

“The pandemic undermined the quality of an entire cohort’s education, and thus, of its academic development.

Ideally, students would be held back to repeat the year that they effectively lost to substandard schooling.

But of course, at universities that charge more than the U.S. median income for a year of instruction, this is not typically viable.” Source

> The performance measurement system is too rigid — too focused on right answers and outdated protocols.

“The story is illustrative of the burgeoning consumer-centric model of the university.

The students’ suggestion that grades should accurately reflect “the time and effort” put into the class, irrespective of whether that time and effort translated into subject mastery, does seem to support the entitlement of a consumer.” Source

> Organic Chemistry is too difficult, too reliant on  memorization skills and largely irrelevant — even for doctors.

“The substance of the organic-chemistry curriculum does not come up all that much in medical training or practice.

So, the subject should not be a precondition for medical training in the United States.” Source


Suffice it too say, it’s probably good that I retired when I did…

Is grade inflation hitting babies & toddlers, too?

September 12, 2022

CDC has revised the developmental milestone checklist for children … uh-oh.

Yep, the CDC is at work again.

Now, their guidance takes form in the CDC’s Revised developmental milestone checklist which alerts parents (and doctors) to warning signs of children’s developmental delays.

Sounds innocuous enough, right?

But, according to Parent’s magazine, “experts are raising the alarm that the new changes may cause more harm than good.”


According to the American Academy of Pediatrics: “The revised developmental milestones are written in family-friendly language and identify the behaviors that 75% or more of children can be expected to exhibit at a certain age based on data, developmental resources and clinician experience.”

Family-friendly language sounds like a good thing, right?

What’s the rub?

The 75% threshold.

The old standard flagged kids who were in the 50th percentile and below.

Said differently kids in the bottom half used to be flagged for “clinical evaluation” to determine whether they were really behind on their development or just appeared to be.

The old (tougher) standard made sense because “The earlier a child is identified with a developmental delay the better, as treatment as well as learning interventions can begin”. AAP

But, apparently, that standard was causing parents too much stress.

Too many kids were flagged as behind in their development.

The answer: relax the standards … i.e. grade inflation.

For example, under the old standard, the CDC said that  a 24-month-old should say an average of 50 words.

But, the revised guidelines say parents shouldn’t expect a toddler to have a 50 word vocabulary until they are 30 months old.

Many parents can sigh relief.

Little Tommy’s not slow, after all.

Well parents, Little Tommy hasn’t changed, fols … just the bar has been lowered.

Little Tommy may not be getting the sort of clinical help that he might need.


Government tries to clamp down on record grade inflation…

September 8, 2022

Don’t rejoice (or worry), it’s the UK gov’t, not our’s

As in the U.S., grade inflation has swept the UK … with a huge spike during the pandemic when much schooling was done “virtually”.

In the UK, for about a decade preceding the pandemic, about 27% of the grades that high schoolers got were As. Source

That percentage spiked to 45% in 2020.


The commonly cited reasons:

  • Online performance tough to differentiate
  • Just showing up online earned bonus points
  • Cheating commonplace on online exams
  • Students needed motivation to stay engaged

As we previously posted, studies are revealing that standardized test scores are falling as letter grades are inflating.

See: Is grade inflation masking learning losses?

Well, the UK Education Ministry has noticed the trend and is taking decisive action to deflate the grades.

“Grade boundaries are being reset to the middle of where they were in 2021 and 2019 as part of a planned two-year process to get back to pre-pandemic grade levels.”

Already, in 2020, the percentage of As dropped to 37% (the black bar above) … down 8 percentage points from the pandemic high … but still 10 percentage points higher than pre-pandemic levels.

Students are reportedly having a “tough time” with the course correction.

As could be expected, they feel entitled to keep getting scored along the lax pandemic standards.

College admissions offices are having a fit, trying to figure out what to make of the grading shifts.

Nonetheless, the UK Education Ministry intends to stay the course … and get back to 2019 inflated grade levels.

No word from U.S. educators…

My bet, we won’t be hearing from them.

This isn’t a message that parents, teacher unions or the Feds want to hear.

Is grade inflation masking learning losses?

September 7, 2022

In short, the answer is yes!

A couple of weeks ago, I heard a sidelines story of a mother who was concerned that her daughter “is dumber now than she was 2 years ago”.

That mother’s comment piqued my already high curiosity about learning loss during the covid school lockdowns.

On cue, the ACT standardized testing service released findings from a reasonably comprehensive study of grades and standardized test scores.

Let’s drill down….


A remarkable increase in “A” students

ACT found that in 2021, about 55% of high school students had a composite GPA (i.e. average across all “book” subjects) that was equivalent to an A grade (the blue line below; Bs are the purple line).

That’s up about 10 percentage points over the past couple of years.

Hooray, the kids are getting smarter.


Err, not so fast mes amies….


But standardized test scores have fallen

On the below chart, the blue line tracks the average GPA … it’s consistent with the letter grade mix change shown above.

But, these higher grades don’t seem to be translating to improved standardized test scores.

Standardized ACT test scores (the purple line)have been pretty constant over the past 10 years …. but, have marginally declined in the most recent years.


Note: The “real” ACT trend is probably worse than shown because of “sample bias”.

During the pandemic (and continuing to today) many colleges have waived the requirement that applicants submit standardized test scores.

It’s commonly concluded that many “average” students opted out of test-taking, understandably concluding that they had little to gain with a mediocre (or worse) test score.

So, what’s going on?


Education pundits offer many explanations

There’s a wide array of  oft-cited possible explanations for the “discontinuity” between grades and test scores.

Here are some of my favorites:

> Assigning grades was challenging (for teachers) when classes were delivered online … so, a common sentiment was to give students the benefit of the doubt and “round up” to keep them engaged

> Course content was less rigorous (i.e. “dumbed down) to fit online delivery … so, more students were able to master the pared back content that was delivered.

> Submitted school work might not strictly reflect individual effort since students may have been getting “help” from well-intended parents who were, out of necessity, getting more involved in their children’s education.

> Fewer students are taking advanced courses … and getting higher grades in the less challenging course offerings.


> Curriculum changes — away from reading, writing and arithmetic towards social topics — have made grading less quantifiably objective and more generously subjective.


And, of course, there’s the possibility that school’s are “rounding up” to inflated grades to assuage parents concerns that, in the mother’s words, “children are getting dumber”.

As more standardized test scores come rolling in, that will become clearer.

My bet: We’re not going to like the answer…

Standardized tests “confirm the legitimacy of high GPAs”…

August 11, 2022

So says a pre-law prof at at “working class” university”.

I’ve always been a fan of standardized testing, so a recent WSJ op-ed caught my eye.

The author was reacting to reports that “the American Bar Association, which accredits law schools, is considering a proposal to abandon its requirement that applicants take a “valid and reliable admissions test.”

His summary conclusion: bad idea.

For context, he points out that:

The Law School Admissions Council, which designs and administers the LSAT, has demonstrated through extensive research that “the LSAT is the single best predictor of law school success.”

That’s good, he argues because:

Objective measures of ability give working-class students a shot at going to a top law school.


By leveling the playing fields between undergraduates attending “working class schools” and those fortunate enough to attend “good schools” (i.e. selective private universities) whose “brand identity” and its “halo effect” boosts applicants’ standing in the admissions process.

He argues that a “valid and reliable admissions test” allows working class students to demonstrate that they are as bright and capable of doing well in law school as students from privileged backgrounds.

In effect, the standardize tests confirm the legitimacy of GPAs … potentially boosting the standing of qualified applicants from lesser ranked schools … while filtering out lesser qualified applicants who accrue “face credibility” simply by attending brand name schools … or, schools that have succumbed to the grade inflation virus.

So, the author opines that the standardized tests can help law schools construct more qualified and more diverse student bodies.


My take

While the article was focused on the LSAT and law schools, I think that its conclusions apply more generally.

It’s commonly agreed that grade inflation has been rampant in high schools and colleges … and that the trend accelerated during the pandemic.

Studies are consistently showing that teachers were tossing around high grades like penny candies during the pandemic … in part because of the challenge evaluating students in a remote learning environment … and, in part, to claim legitimacy for remote teaching.

The ranks of honor roll and straight-A students swelled during the pandemic.

Standardized testing is a way to determine whether the higher grades better performance and more learning …  or simply grade inflation.

If grades are going up, but standardized test scores are going down, that’s a red flag.

Warning: The gentleman’s C is dead … long live the gentleman’s A

April 7, 2016

Yep, grade inflation is alive and well.

The Washington Post reported findings from a 70-year retrospective analysis of college grades.

The central conclusion:

“Across the country, wherever and whatever they study, mediocre students are increasingly likely to receive supposedly superlative grades.”

In other words, these days, A is the new “average”.

Now, almost half of all grades given are A’s … triple the percentage from a few decades ago.

C’s – the old “average” – is dying a slow, steady death … and, there’s a higher likelihood of a student being struck by lightning than getting hit with an F.




Here are some explanatory snippets and my take …


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