Thursday, July 14, 2011

Picture(s) of the Day: Grade Inflation

From Catherine Rampell of The New York Times:

Stuart Rojstaczer and Christopher HealyNote: 1940 and 1950 (nonconnected data points in figure) represent averages from 1935 to 1944 and 1945 to 1954, respectively. Data from 1960 onward represent annual averages in their database, smoothed with a three-year centered moving average.
Stuart Rojstaczer and Christopher HealyNote: 1960 and 1980 data represent averages from 1959–1961 and 1979–1981, respectively.

The relevant question to me is does it matter?  Are grades relative measures or absolute measures?  If the former, then we all understand the modern grade distribution and judge performance relative to it.  If the latter, then this suggests that our metrics are getting out of whack.  I tend to believe the former and thus am not terribly agitated about graphs such as these.  For example, I do not think, when giving grades of normalizing them to universities across the US from Harvard to Podunk State.  I think only of the expectations I set for my class which are themselves endogenous to the students I have.

The real problem, in my mind is that by squeezing all the grades to the top, you begin to become unable to separate truly distinguished performance from good performance.  The other problem is that economics is usually (with physics) the toughest grading subject around.  So with all the english majors getting As, it is important that outsiders understand that the grades themselves are discipline specific.

[Not picking on english majors, both of my parents were after all, but I served on a committee to choose a teaching award at the University of Colorado and we had a lively debate about the merits of an english professor that gave all As.  Not exaggerating - every single student earned an A in his classes.  Not sure if this was a philosophical stance, but his evaluations were excellent.  For some reason students liked him. Go figure.]

1 comment:

GeoGeek said...

I'm reminded of the old joke:

Q: What do you call someone who graduates last in their class at medical school?

A: Doctor.

At the end of the day, I think people are much more interested at the institution the degree came from than they are the grades that went into it.