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Tackling Grade Inflation through Data and Transparency

by Derek Bruff, CFT Assistant Director

The New York Times published an article earlier this week titled “A Quest to Explain What Grades Really Mean” that reports on efforts at a few schools, notably the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, to tackle the problem of grade inflation. UNC-Chapel Hill sociologist Andrew Perrin is heading a committee looking at the issue.

“An A should mean outstanding work; it should not be the default grade,” Mr. Perrin said. “If everyone gets an A for adequate completion of tasks, it cripples our ability to recognize exemplary scholarship.”

Perrin’s committee is recommending that additional information be provided on students’ transcripts so that those who read the transcripts can put student grades into context. For instance, a new transcript might list the median grade in each course taken by a student or perhaps histograms showing the distribution of grades in each course. Perrin’s committee hopes that this additional information will be useful not only to employers, but to students and instructors as well.

“It’s going to be modest and nowhere near enough to correct the problems,” Mr. Perrin said. “But it’s our judgment that it’s the best we can do now.”

The NYT article also describes efforts to tackle grade inflation at other institutions, including Dartmouth, Princeton, and Reed College.

It doesn’t appear to me that Vanderbilt transcripts provide these kinds of data on student grades. What do you think? Would additional transcript data be of value in making grades make more sense?

Image: “Inside again,” Aidan M. Grey, Flickr (CC)

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