American academia is traveling a controversial road: grade inflation has caused average GPAs in public and private undergraduate institutions nationwide to steadily increase since 1980. And Eastern is not immune to the trend, as recent research undertaken at the behest of the faculty development committee has shown.
“In 1990 there were 30 academic departments at Eastern University; only 8 of those 30 departments had a course average above 3.0,” psychology professor Wendy Steinberg wrote in her report to the committee. “In 2003-04 there were 38 academic departments at Eastern University; only 10 of those 38 departments did not have a course average above 3.0.”
Her report found that the education department has the highest average GPA at 3.63, while business administration had the biggest change in GPA with an increase from 2.32 in 1990 to 3.21 in 2003-04.
For the university as a whole, the average GPA jumped from 2.85 to 3.19. There is no doubt that grade inflation is occurring. The questions in debate are just why grades are higher and, if this is a problem, what to do about it.
“The problem with grade inflation is invalidity,” Steinberg said. “Are inflated grades accurately measuring what you are supposedly measuring?”
Grade inflation means students are getting higher grades, yet according to Steinberg, students today aren’t smarter than students 10 years ago; she would argue that on average, students today are more deficient in basic skills than students 10 or 20 years ago.
However, the change in grades may be due partly to forgivable factors. President David Black believes that current grading practices may not be in need of major change.
“We tend to think about a student’s performance long-term, rather than [just] 14 weeks,” Black said. “Teachers are able to look into the future and see the potential of students beyond the term.”
While not concerned with present grade inflation, Black still wants to see the conversation on grade inflation continue.
The faculty development committee focused this year’s faculty development workshops on grade inflation, partly in answer to student concerns. This was the arena for the presentation of Steinberg’s study. Professors Heewon Chang of the education department and Ed Kuhlman of the social work program also presented at the workshops, focusing on grading in their respective majors.
And the conversation will continue, for the faculty workshops brought new data and insights into the minds of full time faculty members, who gave positive responses to the presentations and showed interest in changing the current situation of grade inflation.