Too Many A's? Report Cites Rise in Grades

Amid concern that grades are climbing and creating an overabundance of A’s, a UNC faculty group recently performed a study to assess grade inflation at UNC.

Several trends and suspicions were confirmed by the study, which found that A’s now dominate – slightly more than 40 percent of students are receiving the top mark for any given class. In comparison, F’s are handed out to 2 percent of students.

The study is a follow-up to a similar one done in 2000; both were conducted by the Educational Policy Committee, a group that advises UNC’s Faculty Council on issues dealing with education.

“It seems that the methods or the constraints that kept grading in certain ranges have slipped over time,” committee Chairman Peter Gordon said. “We are progressively losing the value of grades as a way of indication levels of students’ performance, and we’re starting to have very strong divergences between disciplines and norms.”

The study also examined grade-point averages and concluded that they are rising an average of 0.0185 of a point a year. Students have remarked that such a figure is negligible, but Gordon disagrees.

“If we continued that rate, which, of course, we can’t, we would be at all A’s in 52 years,” he said. “I don’t believe that the house falls down tomorrow if we don’t do something today, but something will be done before that progression of 52 years goes on.”

Gordon said that much of the problem has been created by an Internet service called that posts the average grades handed out by specific teachers along with student feedback on teaching styles.

“I think that Pick-a-Prof simply is a reflection of the pressures that exist in the system,” Gordon said. “It’s a symptom; it’s not a cause. But it’s a symptom that may metastasize and exacerbate some of the problem.”

As a means to remedy grade inflation, the report proposed three options: establish a 2.7 GPA mean for all students and to have that monitored by the provost’s office; create a ranking system for courses, similar to the ratings percentage index used for college basketball, to be printed on transcripts alongside grades; and create a more accurate system for evaluating teacher performance.

When the report was presented to the Faculty Council in April, it caught the attention of Chancellor James Moeser and Faculty Chair Judith Wegner. Moeser said that the issue is a concern; Wegner said it warrants extensive review.

Regardless of what route is selected, Gordon said he believes something should be done soon.

“Like any problem of erosion, you can tolerate some, and it’s no big deal,” he said. “It’s not like it’s so much worse today than yesterday, but at some point the foundation gets weakened and weakened, and bad things can happen.”

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