Monday, May 4, 2009

An A's an A?

So I happened to get an e-mail a few days ago giving me a link to's results on the grade distribution here at UVA. You can't find a similar one for my alma mater, so I didn't know what to expect, exactly.

Maybe I shoudn't be surprised, but it seems that 78% of grades given at UVA are at least a B, and 47% of grades given are at least an A-. In fact, all the grades less than a B-, i.e. C+ down through F, constitute a mere 14% of grades given.

There are almost as many A+'s (7% of all grades) as there are C's and C+'s combined (9%), which is far more than the total of D+'s down through F's (a mere 3%).

UVA students are, for the most part, really smart, so on the one hand, this amazing grade distribution makes some sort of sense. On the other hand, doesn't that mean an 'A' is worth a lot less? Almost half the grades given are at least an A-. Even the A+ just doesn't seem to mean a whole lot.

I know people who complain about grade inflation are usually seen as crabby students who came from private schools, but hear me out.

There are two issues at stake. One is that students aren't being challenged enough. If it's that common to get an A, perhaps it is because professors aren't willing to give assignments that require more creative or original thinking.

The other issue is that grade inflation seems to make the world more competitive in the long run. I see this in high school, anyway. Just because you're smart, you still can't differentiate yourself from your peers without participating in 1000 different activities to boost your resume. You have to stand out, and doing well in classes isn't nearly enough. I would have to guess this has some similar affect on college students, as well.

Additionally, you get the problem that if grades are not efficient means by which to differentiate yourself from your peers, then you probably aren't going to focus on your coursework as much as other things. Is this really what universities are intending? Some of them may be. I guess there's something to be said for the university to be a forum for student activism, etc. rather than be strictly a learning institution. I guess I'm a little old fashioned; I still like the idea of the university as simply a learning institution.

But I suppose there's no turning back from the American system as we know it. The demand these days is more for preparation for the "real world," and not so much for education in a more traditional sense. So I suppose that skills like convincing your professor to bump that B+ up to an A-, asking for extensions on homework and extra credit to make up failed assignments, and learning to differentiate between important classes and freebies are much more valuable these days than simply learning things like philosophy, literature, mathematics, history, and science. The latter honestly don't get you as far in the "real world."

I guess the only thing that gets me is how people are willing to spend more and more for an education that actually means less and less.

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