Prof book links grade inflation, evaluations

BY KRISTIN OSTBY

DAILY STAFF REPORTER

Published September 3, 2003

As concern over grade inflation grows across campus, a new book
by biostatistics Prof. Valen Johnson suggests that teacher
evaluations are a significant part of the problem.

"Grade Inflation: A Crisis in College Education," which came out
this summer, "is a study on how (grading) practices are influencing
the courses students take and influencing the evaluations the
faculty receive (from students)," Johnson said.

This study is "the first large-scale experiment that really
looked at that effect. The effect is fairly substantial. For most
items on most course evaluation forms, a student expecting an A- is
about 35 to 40 percent more likely to give a faculty member a more
favorable (evaluation)," Johnson said.

Subsequently the good or bad evaluations may decide the outcome
of a professor's career.

Teachers who receive good evaluations do not necessarily benefit
from course evaluations, but those who receive poor evaluations
certainly suffer, said an English professor who wished to remain
anonymous.

He added that he was distressed over the practice of grade
inflation. "Anybody can get a B. ... I have a real problem with
grade inflation." The professor, who admitted to being stingy with
high grades, said, "Ultimately, it hurts the student."

The book is based on a study completed in 1999 at Duke
University while Johnson was a professor there. Johnson arrived at
Michigan last year.

The study also showed disparities in grading between natural
science and humanities courses. "The science and mathematics
faculty tended to grade about a half letter-grade more difficult
than in humanities," Johnson said.

Jen Anstett, an LSA senior and sociology major, said she has
noticed grade inflation in higher level classes. Anstett did not
seem to have a problem with the inflation, adding, "I'm okay with
getting A's."

"I haven't really noticed (grade inflation)," said John Pranger,
an LSA junior and a physics major. "Most of the math teachers seem
to give (grades) on a bell curve."

The problem might be simply solved by fostering discussion
amongst faculty to help regulate grading procedures, Johnson said.
When Johnson first came to the University last year, "There was no
guidance or discussion of what the grading practices are."

Johnson also suggested weighting grade point averages in regards
to the difficulty of grade assessment by teacher. The use of
grading curves would likewise help to regulate grade distribution.
He also proposed allowing faculty to drop their lowest course
evaluation scores so that students signing up for a course would
not be as biased by the average grade distributed by the
teacher.