Whither grade inflation?
Both Alex Tabarrok and Kevin Drum flag Mark Thoma’s recent research on grade inflation. The key paragraphs from Thoma’s preliminary findings: There are two episodes that account for most grade inflation. The first is from the 1960s through the early 1970s. This is usually explained by the draft rules for the Vietnam War. The second ...
Both Alex Tabarrok and Kevin Drum flag Mark Thoma's recent research on grade inflation. The key paragraphs from Thoma's preliminary findings:
Both Alex Tabarrok and Kevin Drum flag Mark Thoma’s recent research on grade inflation. The key paragraphs from Thoma’s preliminary findings:
There are two episodes that account for most grade inflation. The first is from the 1960s through the early 1970s. This is usually explained by the draft rules for the Vietnam War. The second episode begins around 1990 and is harder to explain. High school GPAs rise during the same time period (entering students at the UO had a high school GPA of 3.30 in 1992, 3.31 in 1996, 3.37 in 2000, and 3.47 in 2004 while SAT scores remained relatively flat, though they did increase modestly in math). My study finds an interesting correlation in the data. During the time grades were increasing, budgets were also tightening inducing a substitution towards younger and less permanent faculty. I broke down grade inflation by instructor rank and found it is much higher among assistant professors, adjuncts, TAs, instructors, etc. than for associate or full professors. These are instructors who are usually hired year-to-year or need to demonstrate teaching effectiveness for the job market, so they have an incentive to inflate evaluations as much as possible, and high grades are one means of manipulating student course evaluations.
If Thoma’s finding hold up, it would appear to be a classic case of economic incentives outweighing social norms. [Why?–ed. If asked to predict the pattern of grade inflation, I would have predicted the opposite trend. In my own experience, graduate students tend to be the harshest critics of undergraduate work, folloed by junior faculty (tenure track or not), followed by senior faculty. Mostly this is because, in my field, graduate students are first trained to be critics before they have to create their own work. One way this critical edge usually plays itself out is in grading others. However, Thoma’s findings would suggest that this social effect is completely swamped by straight-forward material incentives. One question I would have, however, is whether this result holds at top tier research universities.]
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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