Grade Inflation and its Impact on Quality in Higher Education

Grade inflation in teaching and learning, in assessing the achievement of student learning outcomes to be precise, seems to be a day-to-day practice in higher education (e.g. Millet, 2010; http://gradeinflation.com/, 2013; Pressman, 2007).

What grades do most of the students actually receive? What is it that proudly stands on their diplomas? Is it a “C”?

Considering grade inflation a common and world-wide trend, it is worth discussing what its most frequent and severe consequences are. What kind of impact does the grade inflation have on the quality of teaching and learning?

There are many perspectives to take into consideration while analyzing the possible effects of grade inflation. One of them is the student’s perspective – and to which extent grade inflation has an impact on student engagement in learning. There is no doubt that the student engagement will depend on how assessment and grades reflect his/her actual academic performance (Asante et al., 2012). Will the student engage further if (s)he gets an “A” without putting too much effort to obtain it? What about the best of the best in the class? What sort of influence will such a situation have on their morale (if they receive the same grades as those who simply don’t deserve it)?

The employer’s perspective, on the other hand, indicates potential difficulties in recruiting graduates. Just imagine 100+ candidates with an “A” on their diplomas? Who is in fact the best candidate among all the applicants? The employer would be confused and would not be able to make any decision based on the overall Grade Point Average (GPA). There is no distinction between the quality of the candidates in this matter.
The state, on the other side, recognizes the quality of the degrees with its authority and an emblem printed on the diploma.

Considering the importance of assessment in assuring quality of a degree, the assessment criteria need to be communicated effectively among all interested parties. “The criteria for and method of assessment as well as criteria for marking are published in advance (…) [to allow] students to demonstrate the extent to which the intended learning outcomes have been achieved. Students are given feedback, which, if necessary, is linked to advice on the learning process” ( EURASHE, 2015).
What does it mean if a student gets an “A”, “B”, “C”, etc.? Does a “C” mean that the student has met the basic course requirements in the course syllabus? Do “A” and “B” mean that a student has exceeded the course requirements?

Assessing students is one of the processes in higher education which unquestionably has a significant impact on the overall quality of a university. The lack of requirements and regulations in this matter, as well as the lack of specific quality measures, result in a false image of students’, and consequently, graduates’ academic ability and performance.

What needs to be measured then and what kind of information needs to be disseminated within an implemented and maintained quality assurance system? Is there anything that needs to be taken into consideration while evaluating the performance of a teacher? Grade distribution (not necessarily having the Gaussian distribution as the standard to follow), the difference between the course work and the final exam results, common examinations (Bond, 2009) are only the examples of measuring grade consistency.

There are many practical solutions to this matter. Their efficiency will depend on a particular context which a university or a college operates in. There is no doubt though that this aspect of the learning process is critical while managing an overall academic performance. Accordingly, this implies the necessity of having implemented sufficient mechanisms to manage the quality of the assessment process.

For more about quality of the assessment process, see: Measuring the Quality of the Assessment Process: Dealing with Grading Inconsistency.

References:

[1] Asante C., Al-Mahrooqi R., Abrar-ul-Hassan S., The Effects of Three Teachers Variables on the Use of Motivational Strategies in EFL Instruction in Oman, “TESOL Arabia Perspectives”, Vol. 19, No. 1, January 2012, p. 12-22.
[2] Bond, L. (2009). The Case for Common Examination. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Retrieved January 23, 2013 from http://www.carnegiefoundation.org/perspectives/case-common-examinations.
[3] European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education, Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area, Brussels, 2015.
[4] GradeInflation.com, Grade Inflation at American Colleges and Universities, retrieved January 23rd, 2013 from http://gradeinflation.com.
[5] Millet I., Improving Grading Consistency through Grade Lift Reporting, “Practical Assessment Research & Evaluation”, Vol. 15, No. 4, May 2010.
[6] Pressman S., The Economics of Grade Inflation, “Challenge”, vol. 50, no. 5, September/October 2007, pp. 93–102.

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