Grade Inflation in Education Colleges

It’s common knowledge that “grade inflation,” the lowering of standards that leads to ever-higher student grades for the same performance, is rampant.  Matthew Denhart and Christopher Matgouranis note that, “It has been estimated that there has been at least a 0.1 percent increase in average student GPA in every decade since the 1950s. In 1991, for example, the average GPA according to gradeinflation.com was 2.93, but had risen to 3.11 by 2006.”

They argue, correctly in my judgment, that this not only weakens the signaling power of grades but also makes it harder for the truly excellent to differentiate themselves from lower achieving peers.

grade-inflation-gpa-by-department It’s also commonly known, at least within academic circles, that colleges of education are the worst offenders.  They somehow take in the freshmen with the worst standardized test scores on campus and produce the students with the highest GPAs on graduation day.  And it’s not through attrition.

The average GPA at the top twenty public research university for 2009 was a whopping 3.13.  So, like Lake Wobeggon, all the students are above average.  (Or, at least, the median student is above average.)  In education departments, though, the GPA was 3.72.  Almost an A!  And, remember, these were the least promising entering freshmen.   And, of course, the school GPA is skewed by the inclusion of the large colleges of education; the disparity would be even more stark otherwise.

They also sampled the University of Washington and found an Education Department grade curve with no bend in it.  The modal grade, with 76% of the students receiving it, was an A.  The next 21% got an A-.  Yes, math majors, you did the calculation correctly: 97% got an A or A-.    The remaining students got a B+ (3%) or a B (1%).  Nobody got as low as a B-.

Via Chris Lawrence‘s Google feed.   He comments, “While CCAP is often misguided, the ridiculous level of grade inflation among education schools is real – and a serious problem for student accountability in substantive coursework.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Or those who can do, those who can’t go into Education and get A’s anyway.

    Really, this explains so much.

  2. Steve Plunk says:

    Education has typically been a fallback major for many in college students resulting in most of them being in the bottom 1/3 of college graduates. This type of grading only makes it worse for them and also the truly hard working students in the long run.

  3. Steve Plunk says:

    Education has typically been a fallback major for many college students resulting in most of the education majors being in the bottom 1/3 of college graduates. This type of grading only makes it worse for them and also the truly hard working students in the long run.

  4. just me says:

    This doesn’t surprise me at all. From what I understand the licensing test teachers take is less challenging than the SAT.

    I work in the in education although I am not a certified teacher, and I haven’t taken education courses. I do have my masters degree and have wide general knowledge outside my original area of major. I ended up in my position, because I needed some extra income but wanted to get home when my kids did and have the same days off.

    I am sometimes amazed by the lack of education some teachers and education students have. I think it is worse at the elementary level than the high school level, but I actually think there are more incapable and lazy teacher at the middle and high school level.

    I think a lot of people choose education for all the wrong reasons. Not sure that explains the grade inflation, but given the fact that grade inflation is high in education departments, it isn’t a real shock to me that it happens in the middle and high school setting.

  5. kth says:

    Most likely those school-wide averages are weighed down by the science and engineering students. If you take them out of the picture, I doubt education majors benefit from grade inflation significantly more than the liberal arts and business school students do.

  6. Pete says:

    I’ll bet these grade inflated dunces constitute the voting bloc which brought us the Obama administration.

  7. The modal grade, with 76% of the students receiving it, was an A. The next 21% got an A-. Yes, math majors, you did the calculation correctly: 97% got an A or A-.

    As someone with a math degree, perhaps part of the problem is the assumption that you have to be a math major to be able to addition.

    At least we know where the emphasis on self esteem in the public schools comes from.

  8. The modal grade, with 76% of the students receiving it, was an A. The next 21% got an A-. Yes, math majors, you did the calculation correctly: 97% got an A or A-.

    As someone with a math degree, perhaps part of the problem is the assumption that you have to be a math major to be able to do addition.

    At least we know where the emphasis on self esteem in the public schools comes from.

  9. clyons says:

    I teach at an urban/suburban high school in Minnesota and over the years, I’ve had plenty of excellent students (Honors and AP classes and so forth) who planned on education careers. Mr Joyner is quite right that collegiate education departments’ grade inflation makes it more difficult to differentiate between the truly excellent and the average.
    After 15 years of teaching, I’ve met relatively few teachers who do not have mastery over their subject area. I attribute this to Minnesota’s traditionally high standards when it comes to gaining a teaching license. Sure, there have been some who really didn’t make the grade, but find me a perfect vetting system in any field. This is why it is imperative that a high-quality administrative team is so important – none of these individuals gained tenure (btw, truly incompetent teachers with tenure can be terminated – but one must go through the process outlined in the contract).
    Alas, my state is hard at work chasing Mississippi and Louisiana when it comes to teacher licensing (and education funding) – The Ambitious TPaw has called for relaxed rules to allow private-sector employees to become licensed with a bare minimum of training. Hey, I worked in the private sector for a decade after college – but going into teaching shouldn’t be something done as a lark, or as a fallback (if it’s such a snap, why do 50% leave after five years?)
    And look, subject knowledge is only one important feature of the profession – I’ve seen my share of subject-wise people fail miserably due to poor communication or classroom management skills.

  10. Franklin says:

    It’s also commonly known, at least within academic circles, that colleges of education are the worst offenders.

    Needs citation.

    It’s believable enough, sure, but where’s the evidence? Perhaps we need to be paying teachers more to increase the competition, especially in ugly neighborhoods. This is not to mention actually giving bad education students a failing grade, and eliminating tenure and other systems that keep crappy teachers teaching crappy.

  11. An Interested Party says:

    I’ll bet these grade inflated dunces constitute the voting bloc which brought us the Obama administration.

    Oh, yes, of course…because there are over 69 million such people in this country…let no piece of information, no matter how unrelated, be used to bash the Democrats in general or liberals in particular…

  12. Oh, yes, of course…because there are over 69 million such people in this country…let no piece of information, no matter how unrelated, be used to bash the Democrats in general or liberals in particular…

    Pot, meet kettle.

  13. just me says:

    The Ambitious TPaw has called for relaxed rules to allow private-sector employees to become licensed with a bare minimum of training.

    One of my daughter’s best science teachers was a man who worked in the private sector, retired from that job and began teaching.

    Also, many people in the private sector spend some time teaching and training others. And to be honest a lot of people who have an education degree can’t manage a classroom either. I don’t think every former private sector employee is cut out for teaching, but then I have seen quite a few education majors who can’t hack teaching either. We currently have a student teacher at our school in the middle of his student teaching who not only can’t manage the classroom he has on numerous occasions actually taught the wrong information.

  14. Mr. Prosser says:

    I think there is a major difference between a teacher who graduates with a degree in math or history and then takes certification courses and a teacher who has a degree in education or school administration. It has been my experience that those with education degrees tend to be poor performers. I have known some who quit to become UPS drivers and police officers and others who go back to school to study nursing.

  15. Dave says:

    I’m pretty sure we’ve already passed the point where grades are useful in evaluating academic performance. Which is fine, to a large extent; it was a strange system anyway. Where else is performance evaluated like this? We’re only clinging onto the grading system for nostalgia purposes and laziness.

  16. c-red says:

    I would say this is a self-correcting problem. As companies realize they are getting less than satisfactory employees with high grades in education then they will stop hiring them. Eventually that will work its way into the education field. When people can’t get jobs with the degree they will stop enrolling in the programs. Isn’t that more or less what has happened to the Liberal Arts degree?

  17. An Interested Party says:

    Pot, meet kettle.

    Feel free to point out anything that I’ve written where I used unrelated information to bash Republicans and/or conservatives…otherwise, you should stop banging your head against those pots and kettles, it’s driving you a little batty…

  18. MarkedMan says:

    My experience is a couple of decades old, but way back then I joined a company that was seeking to commercialize a piece of software developed by a “nationally recognized leader” in the education field. She was a senior, tenured member of a school with a high reputation. As I dug into the “solid scientific evidence” I realized it was a joke. Her comparison test was to divide a class down the middle, put her on one side of the classroom with her software, and her graduate student on the other with a commercially available program, eight in each group within earshot of each other, and then compare their before and after scores after a few months. She wrote a paper, and I was embarrassed to read it and worried about the damage it could do the product if we put this in front of educators. I shouldn’t have worried. It was selected as a featured paper at a national conference attended by thousands of educators, presented during the plenary and given 45 minutes. They loved it. And it wasn’t just that paper. Most of the “research” would have been laughed out of any real department.