A common practice at many universities
in the United states whereby which the letter grade
value of a student's work is increased. Some argue that it is a way for these universities to artificial
ly and unjustifiably
boost the apparent skill or intelligence of its students. Read on for details.
This is how typically how grade inflation works:
Lets suppose that 200 students take an organic chemistry exam worth a total possible 100 points. Lets suppose that the mean score on this test was 60 and the standard deviation of the scores was 10 (and that the scores are normally distributed). A "flat" grading system might typically assign the letter grade "A" for scores of 90 - 100 points, a grade of "B" for 80-90 points, etc. Under flat grading something like 95% of the class would get grades of C, D and F on this exam, while only six people would get an A or a B.
Grades this low look bad all around: for the students, for the teaching professor, for the department and for the university.
Thus, instead of grades being determined by a flat scale, the scores are assigned on a curve -- that is the mean score is assigned an arbitrary letter grade and the distribution of grades around it is based on the standard deviation of the scores. In the above example, the professor might decide to make the mean score (60 points) represent the lowest possible score that earns a B- and make one standard deviation (10 points) the distance between grade levels (60 points earns the lowest B-, 70 the lowest A-, 50 the lowest C-, etc.) with all the other grades distributed linearly between the grade levels.
The result is that 50% of the class earns A's or B's of some kind, with only about six students failing the exam. Those numbers look much better, don't they? If this method is applied on every exam, then you can be guaranteed the *same* distribution of grades at the end of the class. If you apply the method throughout the entire school you can guarantee that same distribution of grades for everyone -- and thus the same distribution of grade point averages.
So who decides what the "average" grade will be?: Usually the class professor or the teaching staff. Does the class professor take orders from the head of his/her department?: Yes. Do the department heads take orders from Deans, Provosts and other university administrators?: Yes. Are department and university administrators concerned that the students make high grades and grade point averages?: You bet your ass they are.
For this reason, some argue that grade inflation has gone too far, especially in many Ivy League schools and in schools with large, challenging biomedical science programs which must often compete for attention, students, prestige and funding. "Average" grades of B or B+ are not unheard of at many schools, and Harvard has recently reported that 90% of its students graduate with honors. Is this because Harvard students are all exceptionally intelligent and competitive? Well . . . perhaps, but it isn't the only reason.