Are Universities Giving Out Too Many A’s?

One researcher talks about what’s causing it and what to do about it.

By Alain StephensMarch 2, 2015 7:11 pm|

You’d think that Texas lawmakers would be happy that every year more Texas students graduate from college with high grades – but that’s not exactly the case.

The problem at hand for them is grade inflation, the notion that grades aren’t as hard earned as they once were and for employers and university officials it makes their job targeting the best a brightest a lot more difficult. That’s why lawmakers have proposed a new bill this session that will attempt to curb university grade inflation by attaching a courses average to student’s transcript. It’s a means to give those evaluating a student the ability to gauge a courses difficulty level.

Valen Johnson is a professor at Texas A&M who has conducted research into what’s caused this grade – and if a law can really do anything to stop it.

“Well for my studies for grade inflation its pretty clear to me that the most important cause to grade inflation is the use of student evaluations of teaching and evaluating instructors.  So there’s a strong correlation between the grades that instructors give to students and then the grades that students give to instructors. The student evaluation of teaching are used in their promotion of 10 year cases and there used for merit increases and for a variety of other purposes. ” Johnson says.

Johnson says there is no incentive for instructors to give stringent grades because it not only hinders their career but also causes for more student complaints about grading. According to Johnson there are a couple of things that could be done to delink student evaluations of teachers from 10 year and job promotion.

“One thing would be to use other means of evaluating teachers in the promotion of 10 year process, for example you could use peer evaluations of teaching instead of student evaluations of teaching. A more innovative solution might be to trim the student evaluations of teaching that are used in 10 year promotion decisions,” Johnson says.

Johnson doesn’t see this taking place at Texas A&M due to Texas school standards.

“No i just think there is a comparison of grades across sections of similar classrooms but I don’t think that the standards that Texas A&M faculty use for grading are really different than the standards that are used in comparable institutions. And in fact I think the grades that are assigned at the Texas schools, and particularly Texas A&M tend to be lower than the grades assigned at many private institutions and elite colleges and universities,” Johnson says.

Johnson says the affect this will have, if they post median grades on student transcripts, is it will put Texas graduates at a disadvantage when they apply to graduate schools or employment. He also mentioned the universities that have implemented these type of policies to post median grades on transcripts haven’t had any effect on reducing the average grade assigned.