Grade inflation questionable at IUS

IUS Horizon

Grade inflation — the trend of colleges rewarding students with higher grades than in the past — is a phenomenon affecting many of the nation’s institutes of higher education. But is it happening at IU Southeast?

The answer is hard to tell.

“I don’t know if there is any evidence that [grade inflation] exists here at IUS,” said Joe Wert, dean of the School of Social Sciences. “It may, but I haven’t seen anything that makes me think that yes, there definitely is.”

Wert said he has not seen anything because there are no records of grade inflation on file for IU Southeast.

Patrick Fawcett, interim registrar, said a representative from the University Institutional Research told him no data concerning the average GPAs and percentage of letter grades given at IU Southeast over time had been compiled, because it has never before been asked for.

“It doesn’t appear to be on anyone’s radar,” Fawcett said.

Likewise, grade inflation is not the most talked about subject between faculty members.

“I have heard some discussion of the subject among faculty but not much — more on a national level than a local one,” Michael Abernethy, senior lecturer in communication, said.

While this may not be a problem for IU Southeast, the issue is a topic of discussion for IU Bloomington.

A 2011 grade inflation study conducted by Stuart Rojstaczer, retired professor at Duke University, found that, on average, 43 percent of all letter grades given in U.S. colleges are As, a 28 percent increase from 1960. His data showed IU Bloomington had an average GPA of 3.16 in 2008, as opposed to an average of 2.83 in 1976.

According to IU Bloomington’s official website, the university began providing grade distribution data within the university only in 1976 “after discussions concerning grade inflation.” Then, in the 1990s, the data became available to anyone upon request, as long as it didn’t reveal identities of individual students after “grade inflation again became a topic of discussion.”

Though IU Southeast does not have similar data or that amount of discussion, it does not mean the school is immune to all aspects of the nation-wide issue.

Abernethy said he did not know of any specific instances of grade inflation at IU Southeast but is “sure it occurs,” and Wert said he thinks it is probably occurring with some teachers, but not campus-wide.

Students have differing views on the topic.

Sam Parsons, criminal justice sophomore said not putting a lot of effort in may have worked in high school but not in college.

“If I don’t put the effort in then I earn, and deserve, the bad grade,” Parsons said.

On the other hand, Brian Dennis, biology sophomore, said he thinks most students feel grading is easy.

“I think that a lot of people think it’s not hard to get an A,” Dennis said. “Some have said they just have to put forth a little effort, but not enough where it would be considered earning it.”

Many educators at IU Southeast see the problems with this form of grade inflation.

“Instructors who hand out grades that aren’t deserved are doing a real disservice to their students,” Abernethy said. “Bosses don’t hand out freebies, but they do pink slips.”

Gloria Murray, dean of the School of Education, said the idea of giving out undeserved grades is scary.

“I don’t want everybody who graduates from an engineering school who’s going to be a contractor or a builder or whatever to get As if they don’t know their stuff,” Murray said.

Both Murray and Abernethy said IUS students exhibit different attitudes toward grading, some expecting more than they deserve.

“I accidentally called a student by the wrong name one day and quickly apologized, but he insisted he should get extra credit for my mistake,” Abernethy said.

Still, these issues at IU Southeast cannot be directly proven as grade inflation.

“It’s one of those things that’s really hard to prove exists,” Wert said. “Even if you have data about GPAs, it’s kind of hard to pinpoint that this is grade inflation.”

Dejan Tomanic, political science and international studies junior, said he thinks grading depends on what major a student is in, not the professor.

“I doubt that math majors who have physics, organic chemistry and advanced calculus would necessarily feel the same way as theater majors,” Tomanic said.

It is possible other factors could be contributing to grade inflation data.

For instance, Murray said if an education student does not understand something, they are asked to repeat the assignment. This could account for the high amount of As given, not teachers giving out high grades to get positive reviews.

Still, Abernethy said he sees grade inflation as worthy of further research.

“Grade inflation is an issue that is a concern for the whole academic community,” Abernethy said. “We have to decide what getting a college education means. If it means you got a transcript with a bunch of As automatically stamped on it, then a college education isn’t worth anything.”