Profs, students discuss grade inflation
February 3, 2011, 3:16 am · Updated February 3, 2011, 12:00 am·
News that one in 12 undergraduates at Columbia University earned a 4.0 grade point average last semester have led students and faculty to consider grading policies at Penn.
Documents leaked from Columbia listed 482 students in Columbia College and the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science who earned perfect grade point averages. The high number of perfect grades, especially in the rigorous Engineering school, has raised the question of grade inflation.
Two students earned a perfect 4.33 GPA, and one of these students is enrolled in Columbia’s School of Engineering.
Within the Columbia School of Engineering, 110 students achieved a perfect grade point average last fall.
According to an article in the Columbia Spectator, Physics major and Columbia College Student Council Member Ryan Mandelbaum said that in the sciences, inflation across entire departments might help students.
At Penn, however, in recent years, A’s and A-minuses accounted for only half of the grades given out in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.
“It is possible that grades are inflated at Columbia. I know we are nowhere close to that here,” Deputy Dean for Education in the Engineering School Vijay Kumar said.
“Any student with a 4.0 is considered exceptional,” he added. “I don’t believe that I have met more than one or two Engineering students with a 4.0 GPA in my twenty or so years at Penn.”
SEAS Professor Dawn Bonnell asserted that grade inflation would not be possible in SEAS because “there are algorithms in the class that determine grading.”
Many schools, most notably Princeton University, have developed university-wide initiatives to curb grade inflation.
“The goal of the program is to have no more than 35 percent of A’s given in undergraduate courses,” Nancy Weiss Malkiel, Princeton Dean of the College said in a New York Times article published last year.
“Grades are definitely deflated,” Princeton freshman Sam Lazerwitz said.
However, in SEAS there are no attempts to shift grading “inflationary or deflationary,” according to Kumar. Overall, Bonnell and Kumar agreed that grade inflation has a negative influence on learning.
“In the educational system as a whole, I do not think that it is a good idea or useful,” Bonnell said.
According to Kumar, professors in SEAS place more of an emphasis on learning than achieving a perfect grade in a class.
“Grades may measure students’ potential to do well in the classroom, but grades do not measure inventive qualities like inventing new projects or creating a business,” Kumar added.
Some students echo Kumar’s statement and believe that professors make an effort to grade fairly.
“My engineering courses have been significantly harder than my other courses,” Engineering junior Emily Shaeffer said, adding that she spends twice as much time studying for SEAS classes than studying for classes outside of SEAS.
“I’ve never felt like a professor was cheating me or the grading was unfair,” she said. “The average in most engineering classes is just low.”