Staff Editorial: Create a grading standard and put GPAs in context

For students, it may be a dream come true, but the nation-wide trend of grade inflation is ultimately detrimental to our education system. Though a study pointed to rising student grade point averages, administrators are slow to take any action. Curtailing this phenomenon at the University would be a great way to buck the national trend and set an example for other schools to follow.

According to a GW Faculty Senate study of grade inflation in 2005, average undergraduate GPAs rose by 0.22 between 1983 and 2002. This mirrors a national trend of an estimated 0.15 increase per decade since 1967. It may be the case that this statistic is influenced by the overall perception of higher education as a consumer product – in which students believe they pay for As – but certain actions at GW could help change this culture.

Grading is, in many cases, a subjective process based on an individual professor’s expectations and coursework. Additionally, decreasing grade inflation is a difficult process due to varying levels of difficulty in different departments. Thanks to the 2005 study and course evaluation data, however, the University should have a good grip on which classes are letting students slide with minimal work.

A grading rubric would serve as a positive step in the right direction to get different faculty members and department heads on the same page. If all professors understand broad criteria that would work across disciplines for assigning As, Bs, Cs, and Ds, they may adapt their teaching, coursework and grading to better evaluate student performance.

Administrators must pay specific attention to two different sections of the same course. Workload and grading in this case must be standardized to ensure the same academic experience. That is not to say that all courses must possess the same amount of academic rigor – however, students should choose professors based on teaching styles and not on lackadaisical marking policies.

While these steps may not fully solve the problem, they would at least stop the encroachment of inflated grades. Department heads must follow up with further evaluation after any sort of grading standard is enacted and determine if more drastic measures are needed.

GW officials have said it is difficult for GW to become the leader in addressing grade inflation when it is so prevalent in the United States. A simple weighing of students grades, however, would mean that the University could make student evaluation more stringent while not showing an overall drop in performance.

If a student transcript were to include a scale or a rank indicating how other students in a field of study performed, that document would give graduate schools or employers a true picture of student achievement. GW could become a national trendsetter with this practice, and ultimately others could follow.

In the end, it is imperative for all American Universities to become more transparent in revealing the weight of student grades. If more and more schools adopt this practice, a national index for grade value may likely follow. In the meantime, graduate schools and employers must begin to consider the true value of a student’s GPA in a course of study at one college versus another.

Increased attention toward this issue of real grade value is imperative for curtailing this trend in America. Additionally, more equitable policies could help change the culture of higher education from a consumer-based experience to a more academically rigorous exercise.

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