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Grade inflation report sparks debate

March 3, 2009

Concerns about grade inflation — students’ expectation that they will receive a certain grade for attending a class — are again in the public sphere, due to a recent study.

The study, published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, indicated that 40 percent of the 800 students surveyed felt they deserved a B for completing a course’s required reading, and a third thought they should get a B for showing up to class.

University of California-Irvine professor Ellen Greenberger and her co-authors used confidential self-report questionnaires to examine the attitudes of two groups of students at a southern California university for the study.

Greenberger said she thought Web sites like Pick-A-Prof could be conducive to the mind-set of entitlement.

“I never look at these sites,” she said in a e-mail. “But I’m well aware that many students shop for easy courses or professors who give mainly A’s, etc., or drop courses midstream that they are not doing well in. It follows that grades will ‘go higher’ and that some students will be chagrined when their expectations for a good grade for modest effort aren’t met.”

Edmund Emmer, chair of the department of educational psychology at the University of Texas, said he was more concerned about whether professors could accurately assess their students’ performances.

“Grade averages are going up, but then the University is being more selective in the students it admits, so it’s hard to say how much impact [inflation is] having,” Emmer said.

Eliot Tretter, a geography lecturer, said a sense of entitlement in some students and professors’ willingness to go along with it could have an effect on other students.

“It lowers your ability to judge whether a student is competent or incompetent when they get a B or an A,” Tretter said.

Neurobiology senior Alan Nova said he thought the feeling of entitlement to a B would cause students to not try as hard in class.

“Students have more motivation to work hard without being guaranteed a certain grade,” Nova said.

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