Grades at GW have remained relatively stable over the last several years, in contrast to a national trend of continuing grade inflation, according to data from the Office of Institutional Research and Planning and a recent national study.
Grade-point averages at GW jumped more than 0.2 points during the 10 years from 1992-1993 to 2002-2003, according to University data, but GPAs increased only about 0.037 points over a six-year period from 2002-2003 to 2007-2008.
According to data from a national study by grade inflation author Stuart Rojstaczer, however, private school GPAs increased by an average of 0.06 points over a similar six-year period.
University GPAs increased considerably during the 1980s and 1990s, according to University data and a 2002 memo written by Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald Lehman.
“Over the 20-year period from 1981-82 to 2000-2001, there is no question that there was significant grade inflation happening at GW and you can judge that simply by the percentage of A’s increasing,” Lehman said in a March interview.
In the memo, Lehman suggested that faculty impose a standard grade-distribution rule, which would limit the number of A’s, B’s, C’s, D’s, and F’s a professor could award. The Faculty Senate rejected the idea, but Lehman continued to talk with University deans and faculty about the prevalence of grade inflation, he said.
“It’s possible that these discussions are contributing to the flattening that we have seen over the last 10 years,” Lehman said.
Rojstaczer’s data indicate that the average GPA at private universities has increased from 3.09 to 3.30 between 1991 and 2007 and, for public universities, from 2.93 to 3.11. While GW GPAs have increased a similar amount, most of the change occurred before 2002, and grade inflation has stagnated since then.
What caused grade increases over time both nationwide and at GW remains unclear, though the phenomenon is widely studied. One contributing factor may be the growing competition for job offers and acceptance into graduate school, both of which are affected by a graduate’s GPA, according to an article co-authored by Rojstaczer.
The emergence of student evaluations of teachers – not only online but also as an institutional requirement by universities – may also contribute to recent national grade inflation, according to Rojstaczer and co-author Christopher Healy.
The pair found the national rise in grades cannot be attributed to improved student performance, as evidenced by stagnant College Board test scores and research showing a decrease in both college graduate literacy and students’ engagement in their studies.
At GW, median math and verbal SAT scores for incoming students have increased and ACT scores have remained steady at 27 since the academic year 1992-1993, according to Lehman’s 2002 memo.
Rojstaczer and Healy also gave insight into the scope of grade inflation’s impact. The scholars wrote that inflated grades contribute to disengaged students and could help explain the lack of qualified candidates for technology and engineering jobs in the U.S.