Pressure to inflate grades at James Madison University has caused one professor to resign, another to retire early and others to be actively job searching.
The pressure to give higher grades is coming via teaching evaluations from the school’s economics department, which is criticizing professor’s for giving out too many D’s and F’s, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
“Please work to meet students where they are in terms of skills and preparation and provide remedial and extra assistance as needed in order to reduce the number of D and F grades,” said a copy of one such evaluation provided to the Chronicle.
Grade inflation is rampant throughout school systems in the U.S., in part because the pandemic created extra pressure on schools to try to keep parents and students happy, amidst declining enrollment.
In the 2020-21 school year, for example, Harvard gave out A’s in nearly 80% of all cases.
“A” grades, it seems, are ubiquitous throughout higher education.
One study, by mathematician Stuart Rojstacze, found that A grades, which made up less than 15% of all grades in the 1960s, accounted for 45% of grades by 2012.
But the trend is not just confined to higher education, to the Ivy League or prestigious economic departments, such as Virginia’s James Madison.
“Indeed, in 2016, 47 percent of high school students graduated with grades in the A range,” wrote Tim Donahue, in a guest essay this week at the New York Times. “This means that nearly half of seniors are averaging within a few numeric points of one another.”
It’s a trend Donahue should be familiar with: He teaches high school English at Greenwich Country Day School in Connecticut.
Easy grading also flies in the face of proven scientific data that says that tough grading leads to better student outcomes.
And the harms done aren’t just in denying the best students their place in the sun.
They also deny students the best teachers.
Pressure to lower grading standards at James Madison marks a sea-change for that university, and the repercussions, at least for the economics department, will be far-reaching.
“I was praised in my previous years for holding the line on things like grades,” James Madison Professor S. Kirk Elwood told the Chronicle. “Not only was the criteria new,
it was a 180-degree-turn difference from what was expected before.”
So instead, Kirkwood has decided to retire from the university after this year.
But other professors at James Madison are choosing to stay and fight, at least for now.
“We will not have a criteria where your teaching is demoted because you gave out too many
D’s and F’s,” Joanne M. Doyle, another economics professor at James Madison told The Chronicle. “I mean, I can’t imagine it. If that’s the case, then I throw my hands up and I give up.”