Grade inflation

<p>CBS news report about inflated grades</p>

<p>[Grade</a> Inflation: Colleges With the Easiest and Hardest Grades - CBS News](<a href=“]Grade”></p>

<p>Im still goin if (would saying “when” sound pretentious or just optimistic? tough call) I get in…still though, it is rather strange. Any opinions?</p>

<p>Grades do not generally serve a valuable function, and I consider the ‘inflation’ of grades at Brown to be a product of (a) increased selectivity, and (b) the slow but steady march away from grades as a form of evaluation at the school.</p>

<p>If you need grades to motivate you to get your work done, or if you need to feel like you will be assessed on a scale that ensures maximum competition with your peers, Brown probably just isn’t the right place for you.</p>

<p>The original report that led to the establishment of an open curriculum at Brown called for the complete elimination of grades. It made a strong argument against them, and I find its analysis to be just as compelling today. Check out Section 18 of [The</a> Magaziner-Maxwell Report](<a href=“]The”></p>

<p>Hmm, I could be wrong, but here’s my reaction. On the link fogfog listed, the author cited [Grade</a> inflation gone wild -](<a href=“]Grade”>Grade inflation gone wild -, which says:</p>

<p>At a private college, the average is now 3.3. At some schools, it tops 3.5 and even 3.6. “A” is average at those schools!
At elite Brown University, two-thirds of all letter grades given are now A’s.

<p>First of all, could it be that students do well at elite private schools because they’re … I don’t know, SMART? They got in, after all… The goal of these schools is to accept students who can succeed and thrive there, right?</p>

<p>Second, isn’t Rojstaczer misrepresenting Brown’s grading system with the logical fallacy of biased/suppressed information? In the traditional letter-grading system, a student receives an A, B, C, or No Credit; in the pass-fail system, a student receives an S or NC and is intended to “encourage you to explore subjects outside of your main interests and to promote an interdisciplinary approach to your education” ([Brown</a> Admission: Requirements & Grading](<a href=“Undergraduate Admission | Brown University”>Undergraduate Admission | Brown University)). Excuse me if my logic is flawed, but it seems to me that a student would choose the S/NC system for subjects he/she isn’t as good at (“outside of your main interests”) and the A/B/C system for more important classes, i.e. pre-med classes or concentration requirements. So if this is the case, wouldn’t it make sense–and wouldn’t we hope–that a good deal of the letter grades given are A’s? After all, these are classes being taken by smart people, and they happen to be classes that these smart people are good at (or need to be good at).</p>

<p>All that said, I think these authors were just looking for examples to support their cases without actually considering their causes. If anything, I don’t think this data means Brown and other private schools are “easier.” Rather, in the context of other statistics such as post-college success, it means they enable and cultivate learning better.</p>

<p>Edit: missed your post, mgcsinc, but good points too :)</p>

<p>^Likewise :)</p>

<p>“First of all, could it be that students do well at elite private schools because they’re … I don’t know, SMART? They got in, after all… The goal of these schools is to accept students who can succeed and thrive there, right?”</p>

<p>Not sure how this explains why Princeton and MIT has GPA averages at 3.2-3.3 while Brown’s GPA average exceeds 3.6, unless if you’re preposterously implying that Princeton/MIT students are not as smart as Brown students.</p>

<p>Also, Brown is not the only school with a pass/fail system. For example, at MIT, every single class taken in the first term of freshman year is graded Pass/No Record; in the second term, classes are graded A/B/C/No Record. Juniors and seniors are also allowed to take two classes P/D/F. Similarly, Princeton allows four classes to be taken P/D/F. Yes, Brown allows almost any class to be taken S/NC, but my understanding is that most students take only a few classes on S/NC (esp. those who plan on attending law/med/grad school). I could be wrong, but I also find it difficult to believe that S/NC is the only reason why Brown’s GPA average is higher than most other colleges of its caliber.</p>

<p>^Other schools have undertaken grade-deflationary or curving measures in a misguided attempt to cure the ‘problem’ of grade inflation; Brown has not.</p>

<p>At Brown, students intending to go to professional or graduate schools still often take one or two classes each semester pass/fail. With the possible exception of medical school, those students who choose not to take classes S/NC – even outside of their major – with the idea that doing so would hurt their admissions chances are misinformed.</p>

<p>In my time at Brown, I took 10 classes S/NC. I am at Harvard Law School now.</p>

<p>So trying to curb grade inflation with curves, harder coursework, quotas, etc. is “misguided.” What about allowing S/NC for almost any class at Brown? Isn’t the administration aware that what they are doing is further exacerbating the grade inflation problem?</p>

<p>According to, it looks like in 2006 (most recent year with comparable data) Brown’s average GPA was 3.59. In the same year, similar top-tier schools that are not known to have grade-deflationary measures like Columbia, Duke, and Dartmouth had average GPAs between 3.39 and 3.42. I think a difference of 0.2 is pretty significant.</p>

<p>Anyway, I’m glad to hear that you’re now at HLS (despite having taken ten classes S/NC), but unless there is more data regarding the correlation between S/NC classes taken and effect on grad school admissions, I think anecdotal evidence should be taken with a grain of salt.</p>

<p>Out of curiosity, what were the reasons for you opting for S/NC for these classes? Would you have taken these classes had there not been S/NC?</p>

<p>Correct; attempting to curb grade inflation is misguided. Grades are misguided; for the sort of student who I hope is in the majority at Brown, they do not accomplish in a meaningful way any important goal. “Grade inflation” is not a “problem” that the administration should try to avoid “exacerbating.” Also, the curriculum at Brown does not (in a historical sense) flow from the administration; it flows from the students and the faculty.</p>

<p>Coursework difficulty has nothing to do with grades. Grades are assigned on an arbitrary scale.</p>

<p>I don’t know the specifics of the schools you mention, except to say that most schools operate under the basic premise that grades are important things to think about. Brown’s curriculum was created in the context of a review that concluded that grades were not a useful evaluation mechanism; today’s Brown carries forward that legacy by not concerning itself with average GPA figures.</p>

<p>Columbia, for one thing, (disgustingly) prints grade distributional information on transcripts. Knowing that that information will be communicated outside of the school acts as an incentive for professors to deflate grades.</p>

<p>I agree that my experience is anecdotal; I meant it as just an anecdote. That said, it is indisputably the case that the LSAC-recalculated GPA and LSAT score are the primary measures used by law schools in making admissions decisions. The LSAC GPA treats S/NC courses as not having been taken, so my GPA was high. Given my combination of LSAC GPA and LSAT, I was a borderline candidate for HLS and (I think) an unlikely candidate for SLS; I was admitted to both, despite my putative S/NC indiscretions. </p>

<p>Most of the courses that I took S/NC were ‘extra’ courses, beyond a normal courseload, that I would not have taken if I hadn’t taken them S/NC.</p>

<p>I totally agree with mgcsinc. Also the higher grades at Brown aren’t necessarily just the result of S/NC, but the overall philosophy about grades and education. In the eyes of many Brown professors, the grades don’t serve to sort students into pre-sized groups of A, B, and C students. For example, in my computer science class this semester, my professor said on the first day he would love for everyone to get an A. In fact most people end up with As in the class, and not because the class or the grading is easy (most students find the class very difficult) but because Brown students tend to work hard and they end up learning a lot and producing high quality work. Clearly they’re no smarter or harder-working than the students at Princeton or MIT; Brown just has a unique (and I think, really effective) philosophy and curriculum that values learning and exploration above competitiveness. In my opinion, Brown is not the school with the grading issues.</p>

<p>I don’t find it disgusting that Columbia prints grade distributions on the transcript.
At least this gives some information about an A, B or C grade.
If you think that 50% of students should receive an A and someone gives
20% A’s and 30% B’s then you can just look at the B grade as an A grade.</p>

<p>If grades are really assigned on an arbitrary scale then at least it might help
to have a little piece of information about this arbitrary scale.</p>

but two college, your system implies that there is any number of people that <em>should</em> receive any particular grade. As heinz’s CS course illustrates, the difficulty of a subject is not reflected by the proportion of kids getting As.</p>

<p>The mindset behind grades being a way to distinguish the best from the worst vs. grades being a way to demonstrate mastery of the material is HUGE. Grading on a curve inherently implies that grading is meant to stratify the class and that the most important thing is how well you mastered the material RELATIVE to your peers. To me, and to many others at Brown, it’s more important how much material you learned, not how much material everyone else learned. Again though, how much material is enough? I took classes where an A meant over 90% and ones where it was much lower because the test featured questions that the prof didn’t think were essential, but wanted students to be able to demonstrate deeper understanding. Then of course there are courses where grading is more subjective.</p>

<p>The reason the Columbia thing is bad is because everyone is so concerned with inflation that teachers want to show they aren’t doing it, and the only thing they really accomplish is discouraging collaborative work among peers and making their students appear less competitive at the next level.</p>

<p>There’s a reason medical schools (my area, in contrast to mgcsinc) are moving more towards P/F systems for the first 2 years. It’s because they realize that grades aren’t the most important thing in the world and that encouraging collaboration is much more important.</p>

<p>^Exactly. Proportions of grades earned tell you nothing absolute about what those grades mean; instead, they mandate competition among students, which is the disgusting part.</p>

<p>Law schools are actually moving in that direction as well.</p>

<p>Grades do not mandate competition among students. I would assume that
students go to Brown because they are interested in learning and that they would
work hard whether taking a course for a grade or not.</p>

<p>Of course it is possible that there is very little difference between the top half of
a class in terms of what they learn in a given course.
In my experience there was however often an extremely large gap between the
top performing students in the science and math classes that I took and those
at the bottom end of the A range. I was certainly in classes where the high score
was close to 100 and an A was at around 70 or even 65. </p>

<p>I actually do not mind the idea of a pass fail system as I find it less misleading.
The pass fail requirements at Caltech and MIT during the first year also make
a lot of sense to me as students are adjusting to a very intense environment.
I would assume the same is true for medical school.
However I somehow doubt that medical schools would encourage students
at the undergraduate level to take science classes pass fail.</p>

<p>I think it is totally pointless to measure a Brown’s student’s GPA (which, indeed, is partly why Brown doesn’t calculate it officially). For instance, we don’t have +/-, which most other GPAs would reflect. A B at Brown could be a B-, an actual B, or a B+ (because lots of professors don’t round up). Also, a lot of undergrads take courses S/NC that that they don’t think they can get A’s in, switching to S/NC if the first few assignments don’t go to their liking.</p>

<p>Also, there is grade inflation in some of the humanities, little in the sciences. As one of my friends wisely put it, “It’s easy enough to get an A in a literature course. But to earn the respect of your peers and professor, you have to work hard.”</p>


<p>you appear to have misunderstood two things that I said:</p>

<li><p>I did not say grades encourage competition, I said grading on a curve encourages competition. If getting an A on a test requires that you do better than X percent of your peers, that’s setting up a competition. How much a student’s behavior will change is debatable, and how much of that change is conscious is also debatable, but it is undebatable that curving incentivizes competitive and disincentives collaborative behavior. Your comment about how students behave is exactly why we go to Brown because at Brown the vast majority of classes are not graded on a curve because we understand what curving does to the environment of the class.</p></li>
<li><p>I was not saying that med schools are encouraging kids to take undergrad courses pass/fail, I was talking about the idea of having the first 2 years of medical school be pass/fail. I would however suggest that when it comes to basic biology, chemistry, and physics, med schools only care that you’re good enough for their standards, not as much that you’re better than the people who happened to take the class at the same time as you.</p></li>

<p>Are grades criterion-based or normative? Should they be one way or the other? Can they be both? What meaning can be ascribed to a metric that is made up of a conglomerate of both criterion-based and normative measures without any special instrument applied?</p>

<p>The GPA at Brown is meaningless because the curriculum, faculty rules, and culture is entirely ambiguous on these points. As a result, a GPA is rendered virtually uninterpretable.</p>


<p>Sorry, I guess I did misunderstand.
However, I found that many classes were graded on a curve at Brown
in a way that was really generous. I found that there were classes where
perhaps an 85 would seem like a reasonable score for an A but then a score of
70 is given an A because too few students had received the higher score. </p>

<p>I did not ever find myself in situations where someone said I think 90 should be an
A but too many people got 90 so now you need a 95.</p>

<p>I agree with modest-melody and thefunnything that the GPA at Brown is essentially meaningless.</p>


<p>I had many classes like that at Brown too but that is not a true curve and not what they do at many schools where only the top 10% get an A regardless of whether that means it’s a 60+ or 95+.</p>



<p>Nice try, but how do you explain the difference between Brown’s mean gpa (3.6) and Dartmouth’s (3.4)? The students at both schools are indistinguishable on both HS gpa and test scores. </p>



<p>Perhaps things have changed in the last year, but a big Brown supporter and alum used to suggest that even Brown’s science courses had an A- average. At Dartmouth – again, darn near equal in “selectivity” to Brown, that same course would have a B average. BIG difference.</p>

<p>Instead of trying to make excuses for the highest mean gpa in the land, if I was a Brownie, I’d relish my good fortune! :D</p>



<p>Perhaps at Brown. But not to professional schools. For law school, gpa is ~50% of admissions. And the average Brown grad (3.6) easily beats out the average Dartmouth grad (3.4). For med school, gpa is ~50% of earning an interview – required for admission. For med schools, the mean gpa for acceptances nationally is 3.6. Again, the average Brown student smokes the average Dartmouth student.</p>

<p>Grade inflation at Brown is win-win, as long as the other colleges hold the line, and Princeton is attempting. But Yale is creeping up (3.5+).</p>