Grade inflation is bolstering the GPAs of Harvard students despite no corresponding uptick in their performances, says a Harvard dean.
Nearly 80% of grades given in the 2020-21 academic year were in the A-range – nearly 20 percentage points higher than average scores one decade ago.
Amanda Claybaugh, dean of undergraduate education, called the trend a “problem” in a recent faculty presentation.
She also suggested that “grade compression” is just as problematic as grade inflation. While inflation is the increase of average grades, compression describes the concentration of grades at the high end of the scale.
The dean offered no clear explanation for the dramatic rise in grades, but suggested students often deserve strong grades.
Some faculty responded with suggestions to do away with traditional grading altogether.
“Why not lean into abolishing grades,” argued Annabel Kim, professor of Romance Languages and Literatures. She suggested a “narrative-based” evaluation system could replace the standard grading structure.
Another professor remarked upon the anxiety-inducing nature of grades for a student. Students should be “evaluated in a way that reflects their experience in the classroom,” said David Elmer, Classics Department chair.
Ultimately no changes to policy were made at the meeting.
It comes at a time when some schools at every level of education are under fire for moving away from traditional, merit-based grading.
North Kansas City School District, for example, not only isn’t giving zeros, but sets the lowest grade possible at 50%, and gives a 60% to students who show “any effort” at all.
One employee in the district told The Lion students have already learned to take advantage of the grading system, understanding they only need to do 20% of the work to get a C.
Elsewhere, some teachers may be giving higher scores because students are asking for it, in what’s called “grade grubbing.” Students may cite illnesses, personal problems or the difficulty of the class when requesting a higher grade.
Teachers are often willing to give the higher grades to avoid the consequences of upset students, parents or administrators, according to interviews conducted by Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews.
Grade-inflating teachers also receive higher scores from students in end-of-term evaluations, which affect their likelihood of receiving awards, promotions and tenure.
For this reason, Harvard reportedly intends to move away from using student evaluations as a criterion for teacher awards.
However, the trend may only get worse.
In a study on grade inflation in high schools from 2005-2016, economist Seth Gershenson suggested a teacher’s impulse to inflate their students’ grades will only increase as standardized tests are eradicated and “easy grading” becomes commonplace.