Grade inflation could be a detriment to students

Suzi Starheim

A look at how only being concerned about your grades could harm your professional career.

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Getting A’s in classes is always on students’ minds when selecting courses, but the idea of grade inflation could hurt students in their professional careers.

Elizabeth Brooks, assistant professor in the School of Teaching, Learning and Curriculum Studies, teaches upper division courses, which means her students are typical second-semester juniors by the time she sees them.

“Looking at my grades, you will see most everything is above a B-minus because of the nature of these students,” Brooks said. “I would expect to have very strong students who have a very good grasp on their content.”

Brooks said giving easy A’s sends a very mixed message to young students.

“The message that gets sent out is that trying is what counts,” Brooks said. “That’s a good message, but on the other side of the coin, it means that quality is not going to be rewarded.”

Brooks said this also tells students they don’t have to know the content of their major well.

“When they get here and have to teach this stuff, they will have trouble passing any of the professional exams given by the state,” Brooks said. “The state is very serious about the quality of your content knowledge.”

Brooks said allowing students to turn in the work and get an A regardless of quality really concerns her.

“It ends up being to the students’ detriment,” she said. “It is going to hurt them, and in our case, it could hurt the students they are eventually responsible for. The more that is expected of young adults the more they accomplish, and sometimes they surprise themselves.”

Sarah Nedbalski, sophomore integrated language arts major, said she has experienced a form of grade inflation in her educational technology class, which is for her major.

“The professor told us ‘if you turn it in on time, you get an A,’” she said. “If you do the work, you get a good grade.”

Nedbalski said there are about 20 to 25 students in her class, and a textbook is not required.

“It’s nice to know that I’m going to get an A, but other people seem to feel they don’t need to put as much effort into it,” Nedbalski said.

Nedbalski said she would still take this course even if she knew ahead of time grading would be easy.

“It’s basic information,” she said, “but it reinforces the skills.”

Looking into inflation

Robert Frank, provost and senior vice president of Academic Affairs, said his department hasn’t “done any systematic review of grades,” but he thinks, “it’s a very important issue, but it’s not in the immediate future.”

Frank said he thinks the idea of grade inflation has just been a sampling issue and has no reason to think it is a problem at Kent State.

“It’s always tempting to take an anecdotal experience and generalize that around the university,” Frank said.

Tim Chandler, senior associate provost, also acknowledged the university hasn’t yet analyzed grade inflation.

“It’s something that we haven’t taken the time to look at,” Chandler said. “It hasn’t been on the highest priority list for us at all.”

Chandler said when he was dean of College of the Arts, he would look at grades from time to time to see what was happening.

“It’s really something that is much more readily reviewed at the department levels,” Chandler said. “That doesn’t mean to say we shouldn’t be looking at it.”

Chandler said while grade inflation hasn’t been thought of as an issue in the past, “there are professors who are thought of as tough graders and not tough graders.”

“If it’s a student concern, then certainly we would want to take a look at it,” Chandler said.

Hard work pays off

Brooks said expecting quality work from her students always pleasantly surprises her.

“For me, it is honestly the quality of the students,” Brooks said. “I am continually amazed at my students’ insights. They are bright, they work hard (and) they are willing to try things again and again.”

Brooks said students are paying a great deal of money for their professional educations at Kent State and should get all the information they are paying for.

“The greatest methods on earth are not going to hide the fact that you don’t know your stuff,” Brooks said. “We help the kids take their content from their arts and sciences classes and learn how to teach it to other students. You are paying a great deal to be here, and you are entitled to the greatest education that we can give you.”

Contact academics reporter Suzi Starheim at [email protected].