Grade Inflation And The Self-Esteem Economy

‘The median grade in Harvard College is indeed an A-,’ the school’s dean of education said today, according to the student newspaper. Even more stunning: ‘The most frequently awarded grade in Harvard College is actually a straight A.’

—Roberto A. Ferdman, “The Most Commonly Awarded Grade at Harvard Is an AThe

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  1. Please allow a public anonymous profile for this post, Doc. I grade for a professor at a triply accredited seminary in the USA. The professor was trained for his PhD under one of today’s top evangelical scholars in the world.

    Out of the 20-30 papers at a time that I grade, I would say conservatively that 5-6 are up to a graduate level of writing and analysis. The rest are somewhere between undergrad and 4th grade work, and I am not kidding. The frustrating part is that when I have given clear, careful advice to some of our less able students, some have then gone to the professor to complain that I am mean spirited. He has been forced to take on the grading for those students himself.

    Yet even worse, the professor has spent the entire semester curving their grades up, so that the students with below average work are evaluated as average or above average. Where is the help and the grace in this? Grace, I believe, is the truth given with love in this regard. Yet what can I say? I’m just the TA. Meanwhile, excellence is a dying concept.

  2. Please allow another anonymous comment.

    I am a PhD student and TA in a university religious studies department. I would unscientifically estimate that 50% of our graduate students write below HS grade level. We are strongly discouraged from ever giving lower than a B (one professor requires that he review any grade lower than a B), and even explicitly discouraged from reporting students guilty of plagiarism. Most students make a B+ to an A regardless of the quality of their work. Approximately 10% of our students are genuinely brilliant, but they are not alone making the A’s. From conversations with friends in other top programs, I hear this is pretty standard.

  3. Another anonymous comment, please.

    Having recently retired early (unexpectedly), I taught some science at a Community College. My “boss” there was quite pleased that I offered lots of extra help and flunked those who deserved it. She told me that too many instructors consider “A” a default grade since “after all, this is community college”.

  4. No need for anonymity here…

    Counterpoint: Harvard is an elite and highly selective university; a significant percentage of its students were valedictorians at their high schools. Setting aside the significant percentage of Harvard students who are there by mere privilege or cronyism, is it not surprising that the best students in the world get the best grades in the world? As much as previous students grieve over curving to help unqualified students, is it necessary for Harvard to apply a punitive curve to its (relatively) overqualified students?

    Caveat: I did not go to Harvard. (I went to Johns Hopkins, and I can tell you it was not all A’s and unicorns and puppies…)

    Point: (“after all, this is community college”) As a graduate student at Rutgers, I did my share of TAing and even teaching, and I can tell you that there is an incredible sense of entitlement to a good grade also among “state school” students. Also lots of cheating.

    • Corrections: “is it not surprising”–>”why is it surprising”, and “previous students” –> “previous comments”.

      Apparently I’m not Harvard material — OR AM I?

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