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Most Commonly Awarded Grade At Harvard Is An ‘A’

education-grade-inflation

Harvard University confirms that if you get admitted to the school, it’s likely that you’re going to get straight A’s:

The median grade at Harvard College is an A-, and the most frequently awarded mark is an A, Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris said on Tuesday afternoon, supporting suspicions that the College employs a softer grading standard than many of its peer institutions.

Harris delivered the information in response to a question from government professor Harvey C. Mansfield ’53 at the monthly meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

“A little bird has told me that the most frequently given grade at Harvard College right now is an A-,” Mansfield said during the meeting’s question period. “If this is true or nearly true, it represents a failure on the part of this faculty and its leadership to maintain our academic standards.”

Harris then stood and looked towards FAS Dean Michael D. Smith in hesitation.

“I can answer the question, if you want me to.” Harris said. “The median grade in Harvard College is indeed an A-. The most frequently awarded grade in Harvard College is actually a straight A.”

Harris said after the meeting that the data on grading standards is from fall 2012 and several previous semesters.

In an email to The Crimson after the meeting, Mansfield wrote that he was “not surprised but rather further depressed” by Harris’s answer.

“Nor was I surprised at the embarrassed silence in the whole room and especially at the polished table (as I call it),” Mansfield added, referencing the table at the front of the room where top administrators sit. “The present grading practice is indefensible.”

On the other hand, Classics Department chair Mark J. Schiefsky, who was in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting, said he was surprised by how high the median grade was.

“I don’t know what should be done about it, but it seems to me troubling,” Schiefsky said. “One has a range of grades to give and one would presumably expect a wider distribution.”

Indeed it is.

Granted, one can assume that the students who are admitted to Harvard are intelligent and should be expected to do very well. However, a grading system that pretty much guarantees that everyone is going to get top grades seems to undercut the value of grades at all. Under a traditional grading system, of course, the average grade would expected to be a C, with people who have performed better getting A’s and B’s and those who have performed worse getting something below a C. That would seem to be not only fair to the people who participate in the class, but also a far more equitable way of recognizing student performance. If a student gets an A in a class where the median grade is an A- (and, yes, one must recognize there is a difference between average and median) what, exactly, does that tell either the student or a graduate school or employer who might be evaluating a college transcript? Absolutely nothing, I’d suggest.

Since, unlike my at least two of my co-bloggers here at OTB, I don’t have any experience in the academic world, I don’t claim to be an expert in this area. However, it does appear from reading that Harvard Crimson article linked above that at least some of the professors at Harvard are somewhat embarrassed by what their school’s grading system has turned into.

Perhaps the issue here is that the traditional A-F grading system that much of American education, and most colleges and universities, use isn’t appropriate for an elite university like Harvard, where the students who are admitted are already coming from an elite educational cohort to begin with. If that’s the case, then replacing that grading system with something that is more refined, and more accurate in reflecting the quality of student work. Another possible reform would be to implement a policy similar to the one adopted a decade ago by Princeton University:

In contrast, Princeton implemented an official policy of grade deflation under former Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel in 2004 in response to perceived grade inflation in certain courses. The policy stipulates that no more than 35 percent of grades given out in any department should be in the A range. Largely in response to alumni concerns, the University announced on Oct. 7 that the policy will be reviewed over the next year.

The other side of the coin, of course, is that once someone has graduated from a school like Harvard, the actual grades they received arguably become largely irrelevant. That degree that says “Harvard” on it ends up being a ticket into doors that students from other universities are likely to have a hard time getting past regardless of their grades, and the grades they got at Harvard aren’t going to matter nearly as much as they graduated from the school to begin with. Whether that’s fair or or not I’ll leave for other to discuss, but at the very least one has to wonder what the value of an A from a Harvard Professors actually is if they being handed out like candy on Halloween.

H/T: Business Insider

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    It’s rather amusing. Not only have our political institutions delegated their evaluations to Harvard’s admissions department, apparently the Harvard faculty have delegated theirs to it as well.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  2. JKB says:

    Interesting…the use of the terms “given” and “awarded”. No mention of “earned”.

    This is further exacerbated by the idea of limiting the percentage of “A” grades. This still implies the grades are not based on achievement but subjective assessment.

    I’ve read that the Harvard premium, or in reality the Ivy League premium is earned upon acceptance. Getting in is the signal and what happens after has little impact, at least from impressing employers standpoint.

    Of course, it has also been shown that those who were accepted but did not matriculate also do quite well regardless of the school they attend.

    I remember a story of a new type of head hunter that set up shop then did detailed job specific testing of candidates. One of the founders mentioned they had found non-college individuals that demonstrated better skills than Harvard grads.

    These facts, along with the rise of MOOCs, seems to trend toward the post university achievement testing. I see this as another boost in that direction. Most employers want competent employees regardless of where or whether they went to college. Cutting out college as a signal and testing actual competency will help employers and help reduce the cost of university through undercutting the education cartel.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  3. Ben says:

    I remember a story of a new type of head hunter that set up shop then did detailed job specific testing of candidates. One of the founders mentioned they had found non-college individuals that demonstrated better skills than Harvard grads.

    These facts, along with the rise of MOOCs, seems to trend toward the post university achievement testing. I see this as another boost in that direction. Most employers want competent employees regardless of where or whether they went to college. Cutting out college as a signal and testing actual competency will help employers and help reduce the cost of university through undercutting the education cartel.

    This all sounds good, but unfortunately, it won’t make a lick of difference. Businesses (and grad schools) want the pretty name on the diploma. It’s vastly more important than the actual skills you possess, at least based on my own personal experience, and those of my friends and acquaintances. People love to talk about this MOOC “revolution”, but the fact of the matter is that employers look at it and see “so you took an online class. Big whoop.” And people keep predicting that it’s going to change, but I’m waiting to see some evidence of that. For now, I suggest you go to the most prestigious college you can get into (and afford) and save the MOOCs for something you want to learn just for your own fun. And that’s the advice I plan on giving my son when the time comes. Sorry, but it is what it is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  4. JKB says:


    FOR THE THIRD TIME in a decade, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) is addressing its educational mission. ”

    “And Michael S. McPherson, speaking bluntly, puts the matter this way: “Good undergraduate education is not Harvard’s most important product,” compared to its role in fostering world-changing ideas.”

    “His starting point—“Harvard is an institution of truly great teachers”—”

    HARVARD FACULTY OF ARTS AND SCIENCES REFOCUSES ON ITS EDUCATIONAL MISSION | HARVARD MAGAZINE MAR-APR 2011

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  5. JKB says:

    @Ben:

    Patience. Real change takes time, starts slow and builds. The seeds are germinating

    For all the talk about the MOOC backlash setting in, the past few months have actually been an extremely fertile time for innovations in online learning, particularly when it comes to partnerships between MOOC purveyors and private companies. We’ve already discussed LinkedIn’s plans to create a “direct-to-profile” credential for completing courses, but as Forbes notes, this is only the tip of the iceberg, as a number of businesses are looking to use MOOCs as a cheap form of training for current employees:

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. Ben says:

    @JKB:

    MOOCs are actually a great way to get training to current employees. But unless someone can show me some evidence of MOOCs affecting hiring decisions, color me skeptical. You can keep saying “just wait”, and I’ll keep ignoring it until I see some evidence.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  7. C. Clavin says:

    Whether you get “A’s” or “B’s” matters about as much as what you had for lunch in the cafeteria.
    Diploma’s don’t show grades or GPA’s…and schools like Harvard are about a lot more than grades.
    MOOC’s are great for people who are already working and need an additional certificate of degree. For instance a guy I know works for Otis (UTC) and needed an MBA to qualify for a promotion. An online degree made perfect sense. But if you are hiring someone new…and you have a choice between a MOOC and a grad from a Brick and Mortar School…which are you really going to choose?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  8. legion says:

    one can assume that the students who are admitted to Harvard are intelligent and should be expected to do very well

    No. One cannot. One can assume that students admitted to Harvard are wealthy and/or well-connected, but using that to infer that those students are also highly intelligent is exactly why there are so many incompetent twits in positions of power in this country. Exhibit A: the entire extended Bush family. Exhibit B: Donald Trump’s entire adult life.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 14 Thumb down 7

  9. Scott says:

    @JKB:

    @Ben:

    Interesting points from both of you. Just happens that I was driving around and listens to NPR’s On Point discussion of the metrification of the hiring process. Description of the broadcast:

    Old-school hiring and promotion could boil down to some pretty basic stereotypes. A firm handshake and a go-getter attitude. New-school hiring and promotion looks a lot more like baseball’s Moneyball approach. Show me the stats. Never mind the handshake, maybe even the job interview. Show me the data. The proof of performance. The statistical indicators that this person will succeed at the job. Big data is all around us now. We understand it and its consequences in the realm of credit scores. You may soon have a number on your “hirability.” This hour On Point: the data-driven hire

    The number will be like your credit score. Who knows where that goes.
    On another point. My wife went to a college that didn’t provide grades but extensive written evaluations of her performance in class. It fit her like a T but a lot of grad school admission offices did not know what to do with her transcripts.

    Ultimately, a college degree is like a credential. Good for the first job but after that, it is how you perform.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  10. Rick DeMent says:

    Grades are largely whim and fancy.

    I work at a university and one of the most troubling grade that I find is the over abundance of 3.9’s (more then any objective assessment would ever produce). In my masters program I received two 4.0’s, six 3.9’s and one 3.8. What are the odds that I fell short of a 4.0 by 2.5%?

    My wife, in the same program did better receiving three 4.0’s to go with her six 3.9’s.

    It’s like there are some profs who have an ideological mandate to prove that a 4.0 is impossible in their class but have to award a high grade due to the caliber of work so 3.9 it is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  11. Donald Sensing says:

    Someone (I think Glenn Reynolds) commented that what Harvard is really selling is not the diploma but the letter of admission.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  12. Donald Sensing says:

    @C. Clavin:

    OTOH, I knew closely for several years a partner in a national hospice company who told me that when they received a resume from a Harvard MBA grad, they simply threw it away. “They know everything about how to run a business except how to actually make money,” he said.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  13. Donald Sensing says:

    @Rick DeMent:

    When I started my Master program at Vanderbilt in 1995, the dean and most professors explained that VU was making a determined effort to correct creeping grade inflation, so no one should expect a high grade just for showing up.

    They didn’t do that so well, since I graduated with 3.75!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  14. Woody says:

    After the diploma itself, getting in is probably the most important feature of Harvard (and any top tier school).

    It would be interesting to see if there were academic disparity between the legacy Harvard undergrad and the merely bourgeois Harvard undergrad, wouldn’t it?

    As for grades? Useful as a very quick and effortless quantifier for outsiders, much like test scores and rankings for public schools.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. Rafer Janders says:

    What people who haven’t gone to Harvard or similar level schools don’t understand is that the value of the Harvard degree isn’t just in the education (though the education is fantastic), it’s in the life-long network.

    The people I got drunk with and roomed with and dated when I was 20, for example, are now US Senators and Congressmen, aides to Obama, C-level execs at Google and Facebook, heads of NGOs, US Attorneys, federal judges, partners at Goldman and Morgan Stanley, Oscar-winning directors and producers and actors, department heads at Johns Hopkins, presidents of TV studios, etc. etc. For the rest of my life I’ll have access to some of the most influential people in the country for most any problem I’ll encounter, and that’s not something you can replicate with a MOOC.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  16. Rafer Janders says:

    @JKB:

    Of course, it has also been shown that those who were accepted but did not matriculate also do quite well regardless of the school they attend.

    Well, that’s generally true. The average applicant to Harvard is so well-qualified that they could have replaced everyone in my class 10 times over with no real loss of quality.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  17. JKB says:

    @Ben: show me some evidence of MOOCs affecting hiring decisions, color me skeptical.

    Ah, the old “Nobody every got fired buying from IBM” defense. It works for a while. And you are not wrong to be skeptical. MOOCs will have their earliest influence outside the US. In the developing world where credentials matter less than competency and the brick and mortar is hard to come by, they’re being embraced. It is interesting to see them being embraced by business for internal education. That will cause familiarity and progress outward to new hires.

    MOOCs will also siphon off the brightest or most entrepreneurial who don’t have time to waste in slow moving brick and mortar. Your Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Zuckerbergs, etc. Who only needed a little exposure to burst out.

    The old way will trundle along for sometime but now their are options for the innovators, the non-traditional student, the non-conformist thinkers to gain the knowledge they need.

    I am quite excited. We may rest upon the cusp of a great time of advancement just as happened in the 17th century:

    “Newcomen’s religion had consequences greater than absence from a local census.  Dissenters, including Baptists, Presbyterians, and others, were as a class, excluded from universities after 1660, and either apprenticed, or learned their science from dissenting academies.”

    “At the same time that he chartered the world’s first scientific society, Charles II had created an entire generation of dissenting intellectuals uncontrolled by his kingdom’s ever more technophobic universities.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  18. Rafer Janders says:

    @JKB:

    One of the founders mentioned they had found non-college individuals that demonstrated better skills than Harvard grads.

    Sure, why not? There are always outliers. But on average, the random group of 10 Harvard grads will always be smarter than the random group of 10 non-Harvard grads (unless those non-Harvard grads went to a similar school such as Yale, MIT, etc.).

    That’s to be expected: the small, elite group will always outperform the general population. Similarly, you can find a non-Army Ranger that’s a better shot than most Army Rangers — but Army Rangers as a group are still better shots than almost everyone else.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 5

  19. Barry says:

    @JKB: “Patience. Real change takes time, starts slow and builds. The seeds are germinating”

    They’re rotting – at least the seeds of genuine education. The seeds of looting always sprout, of course.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  20. grumpy realist says:

    @JKB: our use of the terms “awarded” for degrees is taken from a direct translation of the original Latin, as used in medieval universities.

    Go yell at the University of Bologna, circa 1108.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  21. grumpy realist says:

    @Scott: Oh, that reminds me when Loyola (where I had applied to law school) tried to insist I had to get my MA from the University of London “appraised” by an outside–and expensive–agency before they would look at my application. Somehow the fact that I had provided the transcripts for my entire US educational career (two Bachelors, a M.S. and a Ph.D) just wasn’t enough….

    (I basically told them to take a hike. I had already been accepted by my preferred school and wasn’t interested in playing footsie with Loyola’s admissions department. )

    The whole thing is a total racket, and admissions offices are notoriously filled with the same sort of people who end up in HR departments.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  22. JKB says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Well, that goes a long way to explaining why you are so adamant about not reforming regulations so people can get ahead without needing to have the right contacts. Cronyism is nice if you are a crony.

    And why you hate Walmart, the largest private employer built by some guy in Arkansas who never even saw Harvard. The impertinence.

    It is interesting that your list of individuals doesn’t list one type of job that produces things of use for others. Some do have corporate jobs in such businesses but were they hired for their competence or connections?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 9

  23. Pinky says:

    @Scott: The problem is that HR people need to be able to justify hiring practices in court, if called to. We’re a lawsuit-happy society. No one can hire on the basis of a firm handshake or any other non-quantifiable.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. Ben says:

    @JKB:

    To everything you just said. my only answer is maybe. And here’s the thing, I don’t want it to fail, and I’m not rooting against it.

    But when it comes to something very deeply important to me, like my son’s future career path, I’m still going to go with the probabilities and say that he’s most likely to have a successful career if he goes to as prestigious a college as possible. Because based on what is most likely to happen, that would give him the best shot at a financially stable life. If things shift substantially between now and when he’s making that decision, then I am certainly willing to alter my thinking on the matter.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  25. Rafer Janders says:

    @JKB:

    Well, that goes a long way to explaining why you are so adamant about not reforming regulations so people can get ahead without needing to have the right contacts.

    Well, that’s…the exact opposite of my position. But sure, go ahead with the fantasy world.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  26. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:

    Well, I seem to remember an expression known as “a gentleman’s ‘C’ ” that originated in the Ivys many decades ago.

    And then back in the last 70s, I worked with a young Yalie who told me that during the Viet Nam war, no one was allowed to fail out lest they be inducted and transformed into a mother-raping, father-killing soldier or was it a father-raping, mother-killing soldier. Either way though, certainly a baby-killer.

    Hey, it’s fundamental transformation. Get used to it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  27. Rafer Janders says:

    @JKB:

    It is interesting that your list of individuals doesn’t list one type of job that produces things of use for others. Some do have corporate jobs in such businesses but were they hired for their competence or connections?

    Just as one example, I’m pretty sure that Apple and Google and Microsoft produce things that are of use for others. Unless you don’t count the Internet, software programs, smartphones, laptops, etc. etc. as being “of use.”

    Some do have corporate jobs in such businesses but were they hired for their competence or connections?

    Competence, mainly. What you don’t understand, since you haven’t gone to schools (and are blind to learning) is that most everyone at such schools is very smart and very ambitious. The school serves as a connector and introduction service, but a connector and introduction service for a group that is already pre-selected to be able to do the job.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  28. pylon says:

    If you do A work, you should get an A grade. Just because half of the class did A work as well (much of which could be slightly better than yours) doesn’t matter.

    And if that means the whole class got an A because they all did great work – so be it.

    Grading on a curve as suggested in the article makes no pedalogical sense.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  29. Rafer Janders says:

    @JKB:

    And why you hate Walmart, the largest private employer built by some guy in Arkansas who never even saw Harvard. The impertinence.

    Costco was started by two non-Harvard guys from Washington state. Why don’t I hate them?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  30. JKB says:

    @Rafer Janders: Costco was started by two non-Harvard guys from Washington state. Why don’t I hate them?

    I don’t know. Maybe because Costco builds in upscale, wealthy communities. Whereas, Walmart has built in rural and remote communities where the people are poor and benefit greatly from having a plethora of low cost household goods. Not to mention, the communities and county benefit as Walmart is their largest tax payer. After Katrina, I didn’t see Costco but Walmart got their stores opened. Even bringing in and opening in a circus tent in the hardest hit county where the people needed supplies the most and the county would have been devastated if their largest tax payer had disappeared. They also trucked in supplies long before FEMA got organized.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 5

  31. JKB says:

    @11B40:

    So instead they created a Ted Kaczynski. Or would that be Ted Kennedy. And what was the name of the Harvard grad who shot up her U of Alabama faculty meeting?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

  32. Rafer Janders says:

    @JKB:

    It is interesting that your list of individuals doesn’t list one type of job that produces things of use for others.

    As another example, college friends of mine were creators, show-runners, producers and/or writers on some of the most successful TV shows of the last two decades, including Friends, ER, House, The Office, Mad Men, Parks and Recreation, Seinfeld, Frasier, Lost, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, etc.

    All of these shows produced entertainment and enjoyment for hundreds of millions of people. They produced thousands of jobs for all the actors, writers, producers, grips, cameramen, editors, hair and makeup people, etc. who worked on these shows. They produced thousands of other jobs at their various studios and networks and ad agencies and publicists and accountants etc. They produced hundreds of millions if not billions in advertising and ancillary revenue to the networks and studios. They produced exposure to all the products that were advertised on the shows.

    In short, they paid for tens of thousands of mortgages and bought tens of thousands of cars and paid for tens of thousands of college educations and funded tens of thousands of retirements through their labor. I’d say that’s of use.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  33. Pinky says:

    @Rafer Janders: Would you really call up someone you went to college with for a favor?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  34. JKB says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    So sensitive. Are you in the Harvard Defense League?

    But it doesn’t matter. Harvard isn’t going to be overrun by MOOCs, not least because as you said, it ‘s who you sleep with while there that matters most.

    But if I remember correctly, only 1/3 of the population goes to college. A miniscule number of that 1/3 get in the Ivy League. A small number of that miniscule number attend Harvard. So regardless of the impact of MOOCs even on the Ivy League, there is a massive population out there that can benefit from the MOOCs. Either as much better courses than the auditorium classes imposed on some, or as opportunities for those whose life situation precludes going on a “intellectual” vacation for 4-6 years with hot and cold running coeds. And this leaves out the billions of people around the world who are potential beneficiaries of education entering the 20th century. Not to mention the 21st.

    We are at the start of something wonderful. Knowledge is coming within the grasp of billions of minds that were isolated before. Who knows what this will bring?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

  35. wr says:

    @Rick DeMent: ” In my masters program I received two 4.0′s, six 3.9′s and one 3.8. What are the odds that I fell short of a 4.0 by 2.5%?”

    In the MFA program I teach in, grades are basically a binary: A or B. And I suspect it’s that way in a lot of graduate programs, because anything less than a B average is a death sentence — no more funding, no more loans. So A means that you are doing the work at least as well as expected; B means you are falling behind and are moving into dangerous territory.

    Of course, our grades are the least important part of our evaluative system. This is a creative writing program, so the real feedback comes in the form of intense consultation on the student’s work. That’s where the real value comes in.

    But the fact is, once a student graduates from this or any other program, whatever grades got him through mean nothing at all. It’s the fact of holding the degree that matters.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  36. CSK says:

    @Scott:

    It’s none of my business, but…did your wife go to Hampshire or Evergreen State?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  37. grumpy realist says:

    Someone toted up the value of all of the companies founded by MIT alums. Result? would be the GNP of the 11th most economically productive country in the world.

    MOOCs won’t really replace standard education channels until their credentials are more standardized and accepted.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  38. Rafer Janders says:

    @Pinky:

    Would you really call up someone you went to college with for a favor?

    You mean would I ask a friend for a favor? Sure, why not, don’t you ask your friends for favors? I certainly do favors for my friends when they ask me. One reason people have friends is that they help each other.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  39. wr says:

    @JKB: “MOOCs will also siphon off the brightest or most entrepreneurial who don’t have time to waste in slow moving brick and mortar.”

    Actually, MOOCs will siphon off money budgeted for higher education to corporations and investment bankers, which is the real purpose behind most of them.

    No wonder you’re drooling over this great new innovation. It’s yet another way to transfer the nation’s wealth into the hands of the superrich while impoverishing everyone else.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  40. PJ says:

    The policy stipulates that no more than 35 percent of grades given out in any department should be in the A range.

    “I’m sorry, you’re clearly an A student, but there’s no more A’s left, because these other students are more of an A than you. I’m sorry that you took that year off to work for that charity, because last year you would have recieved an A for exactly the same work. Tough luck.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  41. grumpy realist says:

    @wr: In quite a few cases, the grades mean nothing. Take the FALCON program at Cornell, which forces-feeds students Asian languages in a highly intensive set of courses. What you get at the end of the program as a grade is worth beans–the proof of the pudding is whether you can barge over to Tokyo or Beijing at the end and speak with the natives.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  42. wr says:

    @grumpy realist: “our use of the terms “awarded” for degrees is taken from a direct translation of the original Latin, as used in medieval universities.”

    Good luck with that. JKB still insists that health insurance is not a valid concept because it doesn’t work exactly the same way as auto insurance. If words don’t match his particular definition, concepts have no place in the world.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  43. Pinky says:

    @Rafer Janders: Maybe that’s the part I don’t get, that you’re still that close to your college friends. I had maybe half a dozen close friends in college, and I’ve lost touch with five of them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  44. Rafer Janders says:

    @wr:

    JKB still insists that health insurance is not a valid concept because it doesn’t work exactly the same way as auto insurance. If words don’t match his particular definition, concepts have no place in the world.

    He also insisted yesterday that capitalist societies ensured that all citizens got to take resort vacations (just like happens right here in the US!) and that Soviet communism was “not that bad.” So yeah, his understanding of what commonly-accepted words and phrases mean is somewhat elastic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  45. wr says:

    @11B40: “And then back in the last 70s, I worked with a young Yalie who told me that during the Viet Nam war, no one was allowed to fail out lest they be inducted and transformed into a mother-raping, father-killing soldier or was it a father-raping, mother-killing soldier”

    Yes, the fact is that during the Viet Nam was, flunking out of school meant there was a good chance you would be sent to kill and die in a war that was being fought only so that Democratic politicians couldn’t be accused of being “soft on Communism” by Republican politicians. If some university administrators cared enough about their students to try to prevent this, I’m not sure I understand why you have a problem with that. It was a tragedy that we as a nation decided it would be a good idea to send thousands of young Americans to their deaths for no reason — now you’re mad that we didn’t murder more of them.

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  46. Rafer Janders says:

    @Pinky:

    Maybe that’s the part I don’t get, that you’re still that close to your college friends. I had maybe half a dozen close friends in college, and I’ve lost touch with five of them.

    I guess that’s where we differ. I’m still in close touch with several dozen or so and see them regularly for dinners, vacations, work, etc. Seeing two of them tonight at their firm’s holida…sorry, Christmas!, party, in fact.

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  47. wr says:

    @JKB: “So instead they created a Ted Kaczynski. Or would that be Ted Kennedy. And what was the name of the Harvard grad who shot up her U of Alabama faculty meeting?”

    Wow, over the course of centuries Ivy League colleges produced a couple of murderers and one of our greatest senators (albeit one with huge personal failings). We should shut them all down immediately, and then we can be stupid and free.

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  48. C. Clavin says:

    @JKB:

    Not to mention, the communities and county benefit as Walmart is their largest tax payer.

    Not surprisingly…this is total nonsense.
    When a Walmart comes to town so too comes low wages, increased povertry, and sprawl…perhaps the biggest blight ever inflicted on our communities.
    Taxes – In Asheville researchers found that Walmart accounted for about $50K per acre in property and retail taxes…while a mixed use building downtown accounted for $300K in property taxes alone.
    Jobs – Walmart 6 jobs per acre…Small business downtown 75 jobs per acre.
    Economics – It’s pretty obvious that money spent at a local business will stay in a community and produce more local jobs, while money spent at big national chain will get taken out of the local economy.
    Businesses like Walmart are vampires…they take the both the spirit and the health of communities they move into.
    Mr. Walmart…or whatever big box chain owner…steals from the rest of us. Their shareholders get rich…but contrary to Saint Ronald the benefits never, ever, trickle down.

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  49. wr says:

    @Rafer Janders: “As another example, college friends of mine were creators, show-runners, producers and/or writers on some of the most successful TV shows of the last two decades, including Friends, ER, House, The Office, Mad Men, Parks and Recreation, Seinfeld, Frasier, Lost, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, etc.”

    I’m wondering who we both know in common. Terry Winter?

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  50. wr says:

    @grumpy realist: Exactly. The people here who are whining about the terrible injustice of too many As are people who despise knowledge and have absolutely no idea what education is for.

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  51. Rafer Janders says:

    @wr:

    No, I don’t know him, but I know many people who know him.

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  52. Scott says:

    @CSK: It was Antioch in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

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  53. C. Clavin says:

    OT…
    They enrolled 29,000 people in Obamacare in the last two days.
    I’m sure Doug is readying a post on this surge since the self-imposed deadline to get the site fixed.

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  54. 11B40 says:

    @wr:

    Greeting, wr: (@ Wednesday, December 4, 2013 at 13:31)

    Actually, my understanding is that only 25% or so of those eligible were drafted if that’s what you mean by “a good chance”. But let us proceed.

    I think that it’s the “caring” and its implicit progressivism that makes me nervous. You see, I see teachers as people hired to teach and grade. Interfering in students draft eligibility falls a bit out of that purview. While your “greater good” tendency is perhaps a bit admirable, fraud is fraud and a nobility based on fraud is no nobility at all.

    Now I understand in these days of the ascendancy of the apparat and all its little chiks, like the illustrious Lois Lerner of Internal Revenue Service infamy, who obviously “cared” too much and not too well, things can so easily go awry.

    Or, as my mother mentioned a time or two, honesty is the best policy.

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  55. al-Ameda says:

    This is nothing new. Over 30 years ago a friend of mine attended Stanford, and she said that the feeling there was “you’re all intelligent otherwise you wouldn’t have been accepted here,” and that most grades were high Bs and As. She transferred to Berkeley for her junior year and said that that academic environment was far more overtly competitive.

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  56. CSK says:

    @Scott:

    Ah, thanks. I’m not sure how many schools there are that do this. I’ve taught at one that did. It was a lot of work, but I liked writing the evaluations because it enabled me to say exactly what the student’s strengths and weaknesses were. Another bonus was that it completely eliminated the tiresome business of students coming around whining about how they should have gotten an A instead of a C-.

    A friend of mine who was on the admissions committee of a law school said that those narrative evaluations were very useful in helping to determine who might be a good law student.

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  57. grumpy realist says:

    @wr: So JKB is like the Caterpillar in Alice?

    I’ve always envisioned him sitting on a giant mushroom, smoking weed out of a hookah….

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  58. grumpy realist says:

    @CSK: Oh God, now you’ve reminded me of the Best Exam Whine Evah:

    “I don’t think you should have marked me down on this problem because I simply zoned out and couldn’t remember the correct equation. I really did know it.”

    (We discouraged the whining by instituting a policy that if you resubmitted an exam for regrading, that meant going back over ALL parts of ALL questions, not just the one bit you think you should have got more points on. So you had the possibility of losing points as well.)

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  59. wr says:

    @11B40: I see. So in your mind a university administrator working with students to keep them in school when the alternative is being sent to kill or be killed in an unjust war is “lying.” But you, who so nobly stands against the terrible injustice of the evil government using the power of the IRS to determine whether or not an organization actually qualifies for a tax exemption, heartily endorses the power of that same government to send young men into battles that everyone in charge knew were unwinnable. (See: Robert McNamara confessing in The Fog of War.)

    So: universities protecting their students = bad. Governments slaughtering those same students for no reason = good. IRS carrying out their mandated duty to determine whether an organization deserves tax exempt status = evil. Government forcing “only” 25% of young men to kill and die for no reason = good.

    Keep going there. You’re really painting a lovely picture.

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  60. wr says:

    @grumpy realist: “So JKB is like the Caterpillar in Alice?”

    I believe you are actually thinking of Humpty Dumpty. Unless I am misunderstanding your reference. (“When I use a word, it means what I want it to mean…”)

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  61. grumpy realist says:

    @wr: No, you’re right. (I think the dialog might have been reassigned to the Caterpillar in the Disney movie?)

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  62. Grewgills says:

    @11B40:

    lest they be inducted and transformed into a mother-raping, father-killing soldier or was it a father-raping, mother-killing soldier

    That song is a family Thanksgiving tradition with us. I think this is the first one we’ve missed in a while. Now I have to break out Arlo.

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  63. Davebo says:

    When my nephew recently mentioned he was trying to decide between the University of Phoenix and Devries I asked him why he never considered the American Truck Driving School.

    But neither of those two would ever be accused of grade inflation.

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  64. Grewgills says:

    Grade expectations was one of the things I had to overcome when I did my graduate degree in the Netherlands. I naively expected American style grad school grading. When I was disappointed with the 8.5 I received on my first paper, I was looked at like the kid in class that complains because his A wasn’t high enough.
    In order to teach here I had to have my transcript evaluated, everything 8 and above was evaluated an A. My one 7.5 was evaluated a B. I have no idea where the Cs would begin.

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  65. 11B40 says:

    @wr:

    Greetings, wr: (@ Wednesday, December 4, 2013 at 15:01)

    I’m not really sure that an “administrator” even an august “university administrator” does the grading. More likely, it’s the professors and instructors such as our current President in his better or less damaging days. But let us proceed a bit more.

    You’ll probably have to explain a bit more to me how awarding an unearned grade for any reason is not a fraud. Teachers are trained to evaluate their students’ work and award the appropriate grade. You seem to be arguing that a teacher has some kind of “socially just” right to impose his political agenda or insights on his students grades.

    I truly understand the emotional quandary that this issue inflicts on the progressive mind. Mein Gott in Himmel, it involves both standards and consequences, a mental double-barrel shotgun blast, if you know what I mean. How undermining standards in a subversive way is other than a fraud is a bit beyond my ability to explain. And, as to that bugaboo of all bugaboos, consequences, where is the “social justice” in awarding secret benefits to the burgeoning chiks of some future apparat, undoubtedly, one with the most appropriate medical insurance of the non-Obamacare kind.

    Whither the proletariat and their first cousins, the lumpen-proletariat? What you’re affirming is the kind of thing that those social justice stalwarts Joe Stalin and Moe Tse-dung would find sufficient to ship you off to the gulag of their choice.

    A word to the wise, my brother in the revolution, a word to the wise.

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  66. Grewgills says:

    @PJ:
    If everyone is getting As, the instructor needs to reevaluate standards. A indicates excellence. Students in Ivies were getting a lot more Cs not very long ago*. Something tells me the caliber of students hasn’t risen that dramatically over the past 30 years or so.
    If everyone is getting an A, then an A is really a C.

    *Several years back we had two Harvard C students running for president.

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  67. wr says:

    @11B40: I will be delighted to respond to your message once you have it translated into English. I, alas, am spending my free time learning Brazillian Portuguese, and thus have no time to study gibberish.

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  68. Gromitt Gunn says:

    Well, this certainly makes me feel like a chump. On average, my community college students end up with about 20% As, 30% Bs and 30% Cs.

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  69. rebecca matteson says:

    I think the important thing to remember is that, regardless of how strong the students are or whether employers will look at the grades, students deserve to know how well they’re doing. If I write a passable paper (that gets an A) then another better one (receiving the same grade), then i have no concept of where I am able to improve. Even if I want to get better, it’s harder to know what direction to go. This is not fair or beneficial to anyone.

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  70. Grewgills says:

    @Gromitt Gunn:
    I’ve ended up with about 10% As, 20-30% Bs, and 40-50% Cs depending on the cohort. This semester the Bs and Cs are reversed.

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  71. Grewgills says:

    @rebecca matteson:
    Unless a paper is near perfect it should be marked up in a way that you know where you need to improve regardless of the grade.

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  72. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Grewgills: The thing that is weird to me is that I think that I am probably a harder grader than the professors that teach the same course the at the flagship research university down the street. I suspect this because I am consistently informed that they need a 3.5 overall GPA in the 8 lower-division Core Body of Knowledge courses to get into the BBA (I teach the foundational 200-level Accounting series, which part of the CBK).

    I still do consider a C to be a perfectly respectable passing grade for ACCT 2301 and 2302. They’re *supposed* to be hard. And they’re supposed to be equivalent of the same course as at the University (Texas public colleges / universities have common sets of higher ed objectives for most 100 and 200 courses), which makes sense as the bulk of my Community College students intendt to transfer to the flagship down the street, or already are admitted there but take classes here due to capacity issues at the flagship. But I have come to strongly suspect that the top half of my “C” students would be getting a “B” down the street.

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  73. JKB says:

    @Gromitt Gunn:

    I’ve read that grading is harder for students outside the poison ivy league. The poor dears at the famous schools can’t handle finding out they used to be a big fish in a small pond but are not so “elite” in the bigger pond.

    And yes, they were very good test takers to get into Harvard but Harvard should grade in relation to Harvard not compared to a community college

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  74. Pharoah Narim says:

    @C. Clavin: The one that can sell refrigerators to Eskimos…

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  75. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    While I will certainly note that the most prevalent grade being “A” gives me pause, too, I would like to spend a moment playing devil’s advocate. What grades students get depend on what is being measured. If acquision of some specific corpus of information is what one is measuring, then everyone who gets 90% or above on the exams and classwork deserves an “A.” no matter what percentage of the class cohort that group is.

    Part–but certainly not all–of the grade inflation that we have experienced in the US is a result of a shift to more objective course outcomes and tests and greater transparency in evaluation processes and course syllabi, at least based on my observation over 20 some years teaching. When I was teaching in the US, every school that I taught at required me to provide copies of the evaluation rubrics that I used to all of my students. More importantly, these evaluation metrics were periodically examined by both my department and the administration for objectivity and clarity–students needed to be able to figure out what to do that would result in all of the various grading options. The course I was teaching? English Composition.

    The days when I and others like me were able to say, “I can’t define a good paper (or pornography for that matter) but I know it when I see it” are gone. And just as well, in my view.

    Now it is possible that Harvard and other places should go to some other sort of distribution, but we curve grades in Korea, and it has its detractors, too. For the most part, my students actually do curve, but I remember a term 2 years back where the grades (expressed as a percentage of points available) were 99%–98%–96%–95%–94%–94%–92%–90%–89%–88%–87%–86% and 86% . The curve allowed 3 A grades, 5 Bs and the rest Cs.

    Anybody want to sign up for this class? BTW, my student evaluations show my classes to be both harder than are typical in the students’ perceptions and more concerned with student achievement than typical.

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  76. Pharoah Narim says:

    @Rafer Janders: @C. Clavin: The one that can sell refrigerators to Eskimos..

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  77. Pharoah Narim says:

    @Pharoah Narim: Darn this Kindle!

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  78. Pharoah Narim says:

    @Rafer Janders: Understood…but that’s of no value to the country writ large since, as its been mentioned, Harvard is the Kingmaker for the power centers of the country. We need people who are intuitive, perceptive, have leadership abilities and can think on the fly. i.e. people that have practical smarts vice the measured brand. People that know people? #useless

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  79. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @wr: Actually, what MOOCs will probably do most of all is syphon off the intellectual property of the professors who have made the lectures and classes in return for a small cut ot the total take. But, if they are willing to whore themselves out that way in the name of a utopian objectivist dream, I say whore away!

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  80. 11B40 says:

    @wr:

    Greetings, wr: (@ Wednesday, December 4, 2013 at 18:10 )

    Your Request for Withdrawal is granted. However, due to the lateness of your request, your official transcript will be amended to include a grade of “W”.

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  81. Pharoah Narim says:

    @Rafer Janders: Actually they are not selected because they are measurably the best at anything. They are picked because the fit well and operate in such a way that the team operates beyond the sum of their individual capabilities. The range warrior, water warrior, and endurance warrior rarely make the final cut. Many of the elite forces appear anything but and aren’t the best shot, swimmer, fighter, runner, etc. The DO have”it” factor and courage, and the selection process is setup to highlight those characteristics which involves a high level of subjectivity.

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  82. Grewgills says:

    @Just ‘nutha’ ig’rant cracker:
    I’m not advocating grading on a curve; I’m advocating changing their rubrics. They are evidently not challenging enough. People go to schools like Harvard primarily to build contacts and/or be intellectually challenged. It sounds like Harvard is doing much better at the former than the latter.

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  83. Ben Wolf says:

    I’ll only say this: there’s an unfounded tendency to correlate intelligence with “achievement” as we define it in our society. In my previous experience as an educator there are the truly gifted and there are driven overachievers. The two rarely are one and the same.

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  84. Ben Wolf says:

    Or to put it another way: I strongly suspect had our own Michael Reynolds been a student during my teaching phase, I would have been fighting with administration to get him placed in my gifted class because a) he was actually gifted and b) didn’t have the academic achievement to qualify him for the program. Out of dozens of students in that program, perhaps three were truly exceptional in their natural abilities. This sort of thing doesn’t go away as we age, it’s a pattern that holds throughout life and it’s how we get a lot of (to be blunt I would say most) high achievers who aren’t particularly bright.

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  85. grumpy realist says:

    @Just ‘nutha’ ig’rant cracker: Now of course you’ve reminded me of the definition of the term Bostock in the MIT lexicon: “To Bostock someone: to set the passing score on an exam higher than the average of the class, flunk over half of them and call them idiots.”

    After you’ve done a bit of work out in the world, grades start to feel sillier and sillier as a way to judge people. Scores on a test as a helpful mechanism to see how you’re doing? Great! Still has very little to do with how you’re going to use the learned material in the real world…

    (I still have never bothered to look up my GPA from law school, which freaks out classmates considerably. I think the fact that I have more than five years under my belt working at a law firm is more important to a future employer. )

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  86. wr says:

    @grumpy realist: “I still have never bothered to look up my GPA from law school, which freaks out classmates considerably.”

    Hey, you’re just like Hart in The Paper Chase!

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  87. wr says:

    @Grewgills: “People go to schools like Harvard primarily to build contacts and/or be intellectually challenged. It sounds like Harvard is doing much better at the former than the latter.”

    Only if you conflate the grade with the intellectual challenge.

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  88. Grewgills says:

    @wr:
    Grades are an indicator. The average student, even at Harvard, bases their effort in a class on the reward. If they can can an A by doing little more than showing up, then most of them will do little more than show up. Do you remember 18?

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  89. Rick DeMent says:

    @wr:

    In the MFA program I teach in, grades are basically a binary: A or B. And I suspect it’s that way in a lot of graduate programs, because anything less than a B average is a death sentence — no more funding, no more loans.

    No i get this, what I was puzzled is why not just bump the 3.9s to a full 4.0. Seems silly. No one ever gets a X.9. only a 3.9.

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  90. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @Grewgills: @grumpy realist: Both of you make interesting and important points. Grades simply are not that important (outside of the academy where, sometimes, people interview me in the context of the change in my GPA [up] between BA and MA despite my 20 years of teaching experience) in the real world compared to experience. Also, figuring out how to make the “lines” brighter so that my rubrics can distinguish among relatively comparable students is the hardest part of my job. (I guess I should stop teaching to the goals, so that the students have to struggle more to guess at what good work will be. It works for my peers who simply say “review chapters 1-19 for the final” and subsequently observe that their students didn’t do well on the test.)

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  91. wr says:

    @Rick DeMent: “No i get this, what I was puzzled is why not just bump the 3.9s to a full 4.0. Seems silly. No one ever gets a X.9. only a 3.9.”

    I get what you’re talking about, and it’s all Greek to me. I’m constantly pleased to be teaching grad students where such games don’t apply…

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  92. Xenos says:

    @Donald Sensing: My father got a Harvard MBA back in the 50s. I don’t think he ever hired one, though.

    The general consensus in business back in the 70s was that Harvard MBA grads are useless until they have been fired twice. Once to give them a little humility, and again to give them a lot more. Until that happens they are not ready to learn how to do their jobs.

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