Saturday, February 17, 2018

Grade Deflation Seeks to Negate Student Success

Lily Pepper ’12

Contributing Writer

I was taught from a very young age that having a good work ethic is vital to succeeding in life.  In my mind, the path to success starts with hard work so that one will receive excellent grades and a good education from a top college.  Upon receiving a diploma, one will be able to pursue a desired career (or attend graduate school) and then later, once financially secure, start a family.  Hard work translates into the ability to being able to live the American Dream.  In order to reach all of these goals and to be able to live this “Dream,” it is necessary for one to work hard throughout life without getting too distracted or deviating from the path to success.  I believe that I will succeed if I utilize my strong work ethic and continue to go down this path.

Along those lines, I can only hope that my hard work is rewarded when I deserve recognition.  This ideology applies to work done both in the classroom and then later on in real life.  In the classroom for example, if I do the work necessary and deserve an A in a class based on the teacher’s expectations, I should receive an A as my final grade.   If I do not do the work and perform poorly in the class, I assume that I will receive less than an A.  It is a simple piece of logic that every student is (or should be) taught from a very early age.

However, some colleges in America seem to be either forgetting about this notion of rewarding hard work when students have put in both the time and effort necessary, as well as work above and beyond, to receive an A.  Rather, schools are more concerned about giving out too many A’s and are not focused enough on rewarding students for excellence in both work ethic and the resulting product.

One of the first controversies regarding grade deflation occurred in Princeton, New Jersey, where I grew up.  In 2004, Princeton University employed a new set of guidelines to determine grade distributions in an attempt to deal with the grade inflation problem that was supposedly apparent at many institutions of higher learning in America. New York Times Journalist Lisa W. Foderaro wrote an article about Princeton’s new policy in 2010.  According to Foderaro, “The percentage of Princeton grades in the A range dipped below 40 percent in 2010, down from nearly 50 percent when the policy was adopted in 2004. The class of 2009 had a mean grade-point average of 3.39, compared with 3.46 for the class of 2003. In a survey last year by the undergraduate student government, 32 percent of students cited the grading policy as the top source of unhappiness (compared with 25 percent for lack of sleep).”

One of the biggest issues that result from grade deflation is that students graduating with lower GPA’s will be at a huge disadvantage when applying to graduate schools or jobs.  They will be competing against students graduating from other schools where grades are given and GPAs are determined without any sort of grade deflation system.  For obvious reasons, the Princeton student body is against this policy while the administration supports the policy.  The administration has argued that other schools will follow Princeton’s example and adopt similar policies, however few have done so in the eight years since the policy was established.

Since I spent my all of my primary school years in Princeton, I was very aware of this problem.  It was an important topic discussed during junior and senior year of high school when it was time to start thinking about and applying to college.  Many of my friends and I were apprehensive that the schools we were applying to would soon adopt Princeton’s grade deflation policy.  We could not help but think that we would all be made to suffer in the long run.  I share the same thoughts with my 18 year-old self and continue to fret that somehow my hard work will NOT be rewarded.  One would think that in the current job market, colleges and universities in America would be doing everything they could to give their graduating students every advantage possible.  This would be the logical thing to do.  Princeton on the contrary seems to be forgetting about the real world and is operating in such a way that will hinder their students rather than help them post-graduation.

It seems that Princeton’s prediction of this policy is spreading to other schools in America is hitting extremely close to home.  Recently, a Trinity professor published an article about a study done analyzing the amount of A and A minus grades that have been given out at Trinity.  This article argued essentially that professors at Trinity College are giving out too many As and A minus’s to undergraduate students.  I really do not understand how this is a problem.  If a student deserves an A, the student should receive an A.  This should not be an idea that is up for dispute, but because of what Princeton did in 2004, I am afraid that Trinity may be heading down a similar path.

Throughout my time at Trinity I have received my share of As and A minuses because I have worked hard, gone the extra mile and thus, deserved those grades.

I would be as furious as the Princeton students if I received a grade lower than what I deserved based on another new Trinity Policy.  I do not see why Princeton University or any university has a problem giving students the grades they deserve.  If Trinity is concerned about giving out too many As, then perhaps Trinity should increase the classroom expectations they have for their students.  The solution to this problem is not changing the grading system but rather creating a more challenging academic environment.

My concern for Trinity comes from my prior knowledge about the lead up to the establishment of the Princeton grade deflation policy.  I remember a variety of similar articles and studies being published and written about in the local papers.  Additionally, I had friends whose parents were professors at the school who talked about the looming new policy and the concern they had for the students,  hence my current state of mind.  I pray that Trinity does not make the same mistake that Princeton made in 2004, but rather takes the initiative to make Trinity academics more rigorous in every major.

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