The State of Missouri
Grades A and B are sometimes given too readily--Grade A for work of no very high merit, and Grade B for work not far above mediocrity. ...One of the chief obstacles to raising the standards of the degree is the readiness with which insincere students gain passable grades by sham work. --Report of the Committee on Raising the Standard, Harvard University, 1894.
A Sobering Development |Students Should Not Survey Prof's |Wash. U Law School |A Sampling of Headlines |This Stuff is Not Cheap |Academic Dishonesty |Economic Issues |Missouri State Law |Missouri's Community Colleges |State Transfer Policy |Shanghi, China |Our Future |MU Med School |Competition |Culture of Evidence |Statements of Fact
When Johnny can't read everyone knows to blame the teacher. Meanwhile, Johnny, having learned the art of college management, now reads at the 6th grade level. Johnny is average. As he begins coursework leading to his Master's degree Johnny is in hock up to his eyeballs, and his teeth are floating in an ocean of debt. Like so many others, Johnny has accumulated his fair share of high letter grades with pluses and minuses attached which he believes will serve him well in the future. Later, as he begins to negotiate his way through the global economy traveling along the information super-highway, Johnny flies off into the ditch at mile marker 13. Johnny has no skills. Afterward, he moves back in with his parents and begins to contemplate his repayment schedule.
Prior to electon day, a representative of Missouri's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) publically stated that the department was developing "high standards," and Missouri desires to be in the top ten states for educational improvement. DESE is examining what other states are doing to improve. Some bi-partisan support for the amendment existed in the state legislature.
If passed, the amendment would make the teaching profession less desirable than it is at present. Consequences are predictable. The amendment was defeated by a three-to-one margin.
Teacher evaluation by "quantifiable student performance data" almost certainly would not be based on alphabetical letters with pluses and minuses attached. The Higher Learning Commission of North Central does not consider letter grades legitimate for the purpose of academic assessment. Perhaps The Higher Learning Commission realizes that letter grading is an antiquated, degenerate form of deception.
On Thursday, July 12th, 2007, KOMU T.V. Newscast announced that Missouri's Governor Jay Nixon wanted to make public all student evaluaton of teaching (SET) results for all faculty of the University of Missouri to all students. One student said: "The more information about the professors, the better." The University Provost stated: "We want students to have all possible information." The target date for an up-and-running data base was set for the fall of 2008. Missouri's law makers want students to see what other students like and don't like about individual classes, for all courses, taught by all faculty. Students can also view grade distributions. This is a state-sanctioned version of "Pick-a-Prof' discussed in The Case at Chapel Hill. The 2004 report from the Educational Policy Committee at UNC Chapel Hill states that public disclosure of grade distributions significantly affects enrollment patterns. Students select courses that have higher grades. Did Missouri's lawmakers know this at the time of their decision? Maybe not. Did high-level university administrators know? Almost certainly. It is part of their job to follow trends in higher education. There exists a possibility that opening SET information to viewing by all students stems from A Test of Leadership; Charting the Future of Higher Education, The Spellings Commisson - 2006. The report repeatedly stresses transparency and accountability. Making SET results public does make them more transparent. However, the report does not mention SET. The report gives two important mandates: 1) to measure student learning outcomes and 2) to make public the results of these measurements. To date, the state of Missouri has ignored these mandates.
By law the university is not allowed to dumb down. Missouri statute 173.030 (e) states: "That the institution (of higher education) has adopted and maintains a program of continuous quality improvement, or the equivalent of such a program, and reports annually appropriate and verifiable measures of institutional accountability related to such program."
Moreover, "College-level instruction is a poor substitute for a quality high school education, and it is very much more expensive (Lively, 1993; Tucker, 1991). And if the compromised social and economic efficiency resulting from debased grades and credentials is considered, there is a far greater hidden cost (Mieczkowski, 1995; Zirkel, 1995)." J. E. Stone, Inflated Grades, Inflated Enrollment, and Inflated Budgets: An Analysis and Call for Review at the State Level. printed in: Education Policy Analysis Archives, Vol. 3/No. 11, June 26th, 1995 - Page 8.
The decision to open all SET information and grade distributions for all courses under the guise of improved learning outcomes cannot be justified. SET does not lead to improved outcomes. SET is not a learning tool. SET is not a good set of class notes, it is not a textbook, it is not a learning center, it is not a tutoring program. SET has nothing to do with learning. SET is a student opinion survey that causes grade inflation. Grade inflation is erosion of academic standards. When C work is graded as B, and B work as A, then A work gradually disappears. Erosion of standards is academic decline. So it can be said in all confidence that SET results in declining academic standards. This is well documented in the literature.
What SET really is - is a serious tool for intimidation. SET results are typically used in decisions of tenure and/or promotion. Non-tenured faculty cannot afford to alienate students by forcing high standards. Part-time faculty (adjuncts) are often scrutinized annually. SET data are part of this scrutiny. They cannot stand up to low SET scores and/or student complaints. They are simply terminated on the spot. Adjuncts are becoming increasingly numerous. "Public officials, state legislatures, boards of trustees, accrediting agencies and concerned citizens who care about quality and accountability should all begin to hold public colleges and universities responsible for their hiring practices and look very closely at the continuing explosion in the hiring of part-time and temporary employees. ...Managers (administrators) should not be rewarded primarily for producing cheapened education." First Principles: Accountability in Higher Education. American Federation of Teachers, 1997 - Page 9.
"I rely on student feedback that I get at the end of each semester." ..."I read each one of the evaluation sheets where students make handwritten notes." James Spain, vice provost for undergraduate students.
Information posted on RATEMYPROFESSER.COM shows student comments from a selected course. Comments range from "just plain awful" to "excellent teacher." One teaching category rated was "Average Easyness." The instructor received a 1.9 on a scale of 1 to 5 indicating a high level of easiness or dumbing down. The grade distribution for the class was: 17 A's and 9 B's. No C's, D's or F's occurred. The class GPA was 3.654 qualifying the average student for latin honors at the cum laude level.
..."what we (students) don't want is a rigorous, challenging curriculum. We want high grades, but don't necessarily want to work for them. We want the opportunity to pack our resume, but not at the expense of our down time. A happy student is not necessarily a well-educated one. When universities cater too much to students' happiness, a school will always fail at accomplishing it primary purpose: developing the minds of its students." Evan Ward.
"When an institution of higher education adopts a dumb policy it reeks of irony. ...WUSL administrators have come to a decision to institutionaly inflate grades. ...grade inflation is a bad thing. ...grade inflation makes high marks less meaningful and low marks nonexistant.
By the new policy, Washington University School of Law will center its mean score (what it considers a B+) at 87 as opposed to 83, where it was fixed before. That way, when compared against other schools, WUSL students at the mean would appear to be on par with schools where the mean is reflected in a grade of B+. WUSL administrators must wake up from their self-delusion.
By virtue of the fact that they're announcing this policy change widely as nothing more than a nominal change in the predetermined average score, employers and graduate school adminissions' departments likely would discount WUSL graduates' grade point averages by this expected advantage. In short the policy could hurt the very graduates it aims to promote." Author not listed.
"The financial pain of higher education is almost too much to bear." --NBC Nightly News, September 8th, 2008.
As the GPA continues to inflate, the cost of higher education continues to rise well above the rate of monetary inflation. This has led to the situation that society now pays much more for considerably less. The cover of Newsweek, September 17th, 2012, poses the question: Is College a Lousy Investment? This decline in value has been known for well over a decade. "Reported trends in (academic) achievement and GPAs....support the inference that 15 percent of the state's present day college graduates would not have earned a diploma by mid-1960's standards. A conspicuous lack of interest by public oversight bodies is noted despite a growing public awareness of low academic expectations and lenient grading and an implicit budgetary impact of over $100 million." (for the state of Tennessee in 1995). J. E. Stone, ibid, 1995 - Abstract.Sixteen years later authors Arum and Roksa state: "At least 45% of students in our sample (more than 2,300 undergraduates) did not demonstrate any statistically significant improvement in CLA (Collegiate Leaning Assessment) during the first two years of college. ...in terms of general analytical competencies assessed, large numbers of U.S. college students can be accurately described as academically adrift. They might graduate, but they are failing to develop the higher-order cognitive skills that it is widely assumed college students should master. These findings are sobering and should be a cause for concern." Academically Adrift Limited Learning on College Campuses, University of Chicago Press, 2011 - page 121. Reprinted by permission.
On July 19th, 2012, Brian Williams reported that unpaid student loans currently amount to one trillion dollars. "The students are just a conduit for student aid. Schools are run like businesses. ...They do not require high-school degrees, transcripts, anything like that." One twenty-year old now owes $145,000 for tuiton paid to an art school. Another, a two-year student, owes $60,000. The policy of open admission greatly facilitates this situation. Many instutions that run multiple avenues of delivery including on-campus day & evening, off-campus sites and internet delivery may well practice open admission in the latter three. Average student debt now approaches $30,000 at graduation.
If a Missouri institution of higher education deems it proper to admit anyone and everyone, even students who have not completed high school or the G.E.D., or taken the ACT, then that is apparently OK with state legislators. Missouri Statute 173.030 (c) states: "That the instituton (of higher education) has a clearly articulated admission standard consistent with the provisions of Subdivision (4) of Subsection 2 of section 173.005 or Section 174.130, RSMo." In quoting 173.005 2(4): "the Coordinating Board shall establish admission guidelines consistent with institutional missions." Quoting 174.130: "Boards to regulate admission of students - Each board may make such rules and regulations for the admission of students as may be deemed proper." In other words, there is nothing to exclude the practice of open admission.
Missouri's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is attempting to bring order to the situation at the elementary and secondary levels. High-school students are now required to take the ACT test - KMOU News, June 24th, 2008. Even as DESE strives for more consistent standards, higher education is set free to indulge itself as it sees fit. Meanwhile, parents, students and tax-payers are excluded from looking closely into the situation. The basic question: Where can a student get a good education? - cannot be answered. Often the academic transcript gives no indication of which courses were completed through which avenues of delivery. This is called "seamless." Typically the vast majority of evening, off-campus and internet courses are taught by adjunct (part-time) faculty. These instructors are especially vulnerable to the effects of low SET scores, student complaints, and shifting patterns of enrollment as students attempt to pad their transcripts with inflated grades in an ever-worsening situation. "Parents and students want high grades." Stuart Rojstaczer, Where all grades are above average, Washington Post, January 28th, 2003. How they are obtained is of lesser importance.
This mindset is entrenched in spite of the fact that employers look for skills and learning ability. "The academic transcript has not had validity for the last twenty years." Member of the Consultant and Evaluators Board, The Higher Learning Commission, personal communication, October, 2003. Institutions which offer all four avenues of delivery are financially successful. Internet delivery is increasing, and internet universities are sprouting like mushrooms after a warm spring rain. How much students really learn in these programs is not disclosed to the tax-paying public even though, in one way or another, the public is paying for such education. "After taking an online class, I realized that there is a distinct difference in the quality of the education that I am receiving by attending main campus classes. It's much higher. Knowing that, at the Columbia campus, we are getting our money's worth of college education should make us feel better. Because of this, we are to simply disregard the fact that these online students are getting the exact same diploma as we are, but with half the work and little knowledge gained. Not to mention the value our diploma loses every time online graduates flash theirs' around without the knowledge to support it." Cassie Young, The Columbian - student newspaper at Columbia College - April 28th, 2004. Exactly what students are exposed to in the courses they enroll in is up for grabs. "The academic workforce has been transformed to the extent that no one can assume to know who is teaching what to whom." Beyond Dead Reckoning, National Center for Postsecondary Improvement, October, 2002.
"Some researchers say professors may be partly to blame for students' poor homework habits because they have lowered the bar for what they accept as passing work. ...But professors say that too many of their students are too focused on grades rather than on learning." Chronicle of Higher Education, December 6th, 2002. This focus on grades is widespread throughout American education. "C is the mark of Cain." Stuart Rojstaczer, ibid, 2003. When students focus on grades three things tend to happen: 1) interest in learning is reduced, 2) preference for challenging tasks is reduced and 3) the quality of students' thinking is reduced. Alfie Kohn, From Degrading to De-Grading. High School Magazine, 1999.
Letter grading does not discourage cheating. History bears this out. In a permissive environment no one loses. When students identify instructors who tolerate cheating, the situation escalates. In a competitive environment cheating becomes intollerable. --The Initiative to End Grade Inflation.
"It goes beyond grade inflation. I have a dear friend who is a U (University of Minnesota) professor, and she has to deal with students texting and surfing the web on their laptops as she lectures. When one of her colleagues asked a student to close the laptop, that student refused. The chancellor backed up the student and refuses to limit student web access during lectures. As a result, they are looking at their Facebook pages during lectures. And we wonder why students are coming out of our universities poorly prepared." Comment posted in response to an anticle published in the STAR/Tribune entitled: At U concern grows that 'A' stands for average. Jenna Ross, May 27th, 2012.
This is open defiance of classroom authority which stems from the "students as customers" mentality. When students lose respect for authority in the classroom the inmates run the asylum. There is no reason to suppose that this does not occur throughout Missouri's university system.
"Educational Accountability: U.S. Dead Last."" --Google listing under "International Test Results," January 26th, 2013.
A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education - 2006. "Despite increased attention to student learning results by colleges and universities and accreditation agencies, parents and students have no solid evidence, comparable across institutions, of how much students learn in colleges or whether they learn more at one college than another." - Emphasis added. "Similiarily, policymakers need more comprehensive data to help them decide whether the national investment in higher educaton is paying off and how tax-payer dollars can be used more effectively."
Missouri's Governor Jay Nixon announced that allocations (of state funding) to higher education in Missouri will be based on student performance. "Teachers should get out there and teach." KOMU News, August 25th, 2011.
Does Missouri's situation now resemble No Child Left Behind, a federal law that has been controversial since its passage? No Child Left Behind operates on a pass - fail basis, and schools not passing are made public. Will Missouri's universities be graded as Pass - Fail and results made public?
Missouri State Law. Statute 173.030 - section (e) states: That the institution (of higher educaton) has adopted and maintains a program of continuous quality improvement, or the equivalent of such a program, and reports annually appropriate and verifiable measures of institutional accountability related to such program. Such measures shall include, but are not limited to indicators of student achievement such as...objective measures of student learning in general education and the major, including written and oral-communication skills and critical-thinking skills.....and objective measures of faculty teaching effectiveness. In the development and evaluation of these institutional accountability reports, the Coordinating Board (of Higher Education) and institutions are expected to use multiple measures of success, including nationally developed and verified as well as locally developed and independently verified assessment instruments; however, preference shall be given to nationally developed instruments when they are appropriate. The Coordinating Board is directed to submit a written report to the governor or governor-elect at least forty-five days prior to the opening of each regular session of the general assembly and to submit the same report to the general assembly within five days after the opening of each regular session."
This statute specifically excludes the tax-paying public including parents of college students. An example of an inclusive policy is Statute 172.180 which reads: "any citizen shall have access to any and all of the records, books, and papers of the board (of Curators)."
Who wants access to records, books and papers of the University of Missouri's Board of Curators? Parents, students and the tax-paying public have every moral right to assessment information in order to make informed decisions about which of Missouri's various universities does offer a quality education which, by the way, appears to be rapidly disappearing. The public has no access to such important information, yet the legislature continues to allocate tax dollars to institutions seemingly based on reports that institutions send to the Coordinating Board of Higher Education which then sends them to the politicians. Just exactly how funding is allocated is not publicized. This occurs in spite of the fact that the citizens of Missouri support both higher education and Missouri state government with their tax dollars.
For example: if funds are allocated based on student learning, how is such learning measured? Is the GPA the basis for this funding or are results of objective assessments used? Does a systematic, objective measure of the extent of improvement of skills and knowledge even exist? The State of Missouri uses the GPA to allocate college scholarships to high-school students. "If students work hard and maintain at least a C average they get a scholarship" KOMU News, April 27th, 2006. The GPA qualifying for this scholarship has been reduced from 2.5 to 2.0 - KOMU News, June 5th, 2007. Not surprisingly, "mathematics and communication fall below target values. "KOMU News, August 12th, 2009, AND "26 percent of entering freshman are not prepared, especially in math but also in English and reading. They are to take remedial course work." KOMU News, September 7th, 2007. During the June 5th, 2007 newscast, it was announced that DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) was considering developing multiple measures of learning. As stated previously, KOMU News, June 24th, 2008, announced that DESE was adopting the use of the ACT statewide as an assessment tool. Because grade inflation is widespread throughout American education the GPA is highly suspect. Often there exists a negative correlation between the GPA and objective assessment results - see Problems With Letter Grades. Do Missouri legislators not know this? Why are Missouri's scholarships not based on objective assessment? DESE is collecting the necessary information.
"College administrators warn that President Clinton's plan to grant tax credits to parents of college students who maintain good grades would doom efforts to contol grade inflation. College professors would be under pressure to raise the grades of mediocre students or see the students - and the fees they represent - shut out of the process. ...Some professors also fear that tying money to good grades will encourage some students to take easier courses - avoiding science and math where more students receive Cs and Ds." William M. Bulkeley, Would Tax Plan Further Inflate College Grades? Wall Street Journal, April 22nd, 1997.
"730 colleges have dropped the SAT requirement. ...What does an A mean?" Brian Williams, NBC Nightly News, September 20th, 2006.
As DESE attempts to bring order to the situation, higher education introduces more uncertainty, and Missouri state government remains complacent.
First we have alphebetical letters called grades which are sometimes decorated with + and -. These are intended to depict student academic achievement. Exactly what they mean nobody really knows for sure since the majority of them have fallen into disuse. Now we have colors that are expected to convey accountability. What's next - 3-D holograms depicting colored alphebets delusionally enhanced by pluses and minuses? Whatever happened to numbers? Its hard to achieve objectivity without them. Perhaps higher education no longer considers objectivity important.
Suspecting there exists an increase in the GPA with a concurrent decline in objective-assessment scores that occurs with increasing distance from a home campus with its full-time faculty, an attempt was made to collect data from Missouri's community colleges during the spring of 2005. Surveys were sent to 21 colleges in Missouri that operate from a traditional-campus setting. The intent was to match the GPA with objective-assessment data for on-campus day programs versus evening programs, versus off-campus sites versus internet delivery. Three letters of request were sent to each college before the attempt was terminated. Eighteen of these schools simply ignored the requests. Of those that did respond, two - Morberly Area Community College and State Fair Community College - sent replies that were hopeful, even encouraging. The third gives indication of how the majority of higher education seemingly views accountability to the public. "I have received your letters and survey asking for information on our students and their academic records and performance. However, St. Louis Community College (at Meramec) does not respond to every request for data that we receive. In this case, I have discussed your request with the campus president, and we concluded that it is not appropiate to do so."
No personal information about individual student academic records had been asked for, simply the GPA and assessment data from different avenues of delivery including day, evening, off-campus and internet.
It must be concluded at this point in time that there is no public accountability in Missouri higher education. Tax-paying citizens are excluded and state law allows this exclusion. State policy is complicit. State policy requires only that institutions post which assessment tool is in use. For example: "We use the Academic Profile Test to assess general education."
This situation does not meet the goals for academic assessment as stated by North Central Accrediting Agency. These goals are: "(1) to improve student learning, (2) to enable an institution to verify that it is being accountable to its internal and external constitutents, and (3) to document to the general public and interrested parties the value of investing in higher education."
Others have spoken out against such secrecy. These include: The American Association of Higher Education - AAHE; The Association of American Colleges and Universities - AACU; The American Federation of Teachers - AFT; the U.S. Department of Education - USDE; Steven D. Crow, then Executive Director of The Higher Learning Commission of North Central, and Charles Miller, President of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education.
"Through assessment, educators meet responsibilities to students and to the public. There is a compelling public stake in education. As educators, we have a responsibility to the publics that support or depend on us to provide information about the ways in which our students meet goals and expectations. But that responsibility goes beyond the reporting of such information; our deeper obligation - to ourselves, our students, and society - is to improve. Those to whom educators are accountable have a corresponding obligation to support such attempts at improvement.
Effective assessment programs measure outcomes and then inform their many publics of the ways in which campus programs and services positively affect students, the community, and society. Assessment then is an important component in demonstrating institutional accountability." Principles of Good Practice for Assessing Student Learning, AAHE - 1996.
"Assessment for improvement can have the added benefit of showing external stakeholders the academy's success in doing its job: educating students. Explicit learning goals and transparent assessment results could go a long way toward satisfying the demands for accountability and improved learning that are arising in many states." Greater Expectations, AACU. Downloaded March, 2005.
"Taxpayer-supported colleges and universities have a basic obligation to answer to the public authority--to governments and boards of trustees, as well as to students and their families, the media and the general public. In 1997, the Americn Federation of Teachers issued a major statement of "First Principles" in higher education, in which we affirmed the union's commitment to promote opportunity, quality and accountability on our nation's campuses. Colleges must assume responsibility, we said, for explaining simply and clearly, 'how they operate, how they measure success and how well they do in achieving their goals.'" Accountability in Higher Education, AFT - 1997.
"Colleges and universities must become more transparent about cost, price, and student outcomes and must willingly share this information with students and families. ...This information should be made avaliable to students, and reported publically in agregate form to provide consumers and policymakers an accessible, understandable way to measure the relative effectiveness of different colleges and universities." A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education, USDE, - 2006.
"I happen to believe that perhaps the biggest challenge we face after adopting new accrediting standards will be tearing down the walls of confidentiality that have so long seprated us from a public now wondering what it is we actually do and why we give so little information about what we know. It seems to me that the national higher-education community is constantly on the defensive now-a-days. Simple requests for data are usually met with: well it is a very complex situation that makes good data difficult to provide." Steven D. Crow, then Executive Director of The Higher Learning Commission of North Central Association, July, 2002.
"What is clearly lacking is a nationwide system for comparative performance purposes, using standard formats. ...student learning is a main component that should be measured. It would be a shame for the academy to say, 'We can't tell you what it is; you have to trust us.'" Charles Miller, President of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education. New York Times, downloaded April, 2006.
"What has diminished is an awareness of the implicit social charter linking the nation's colleges and universities, both to one another and to the society as a whole. This shift has cast many campus leaders more as CEOs than as public servants, and the campus itself, less and less as a place of public purpose. ...higher education's performance for the most part has fallen short of fostering an engaged citizenery. Critics regularly question the learning exhibited by college graduates." Beyond Dead Reckoning. National Center For Postsecondary Improvement - 2002.
"U.S. colleges and universities aren't 'uniquely superb,' nor should they be immune from criticism. This is the time for humility and introspection, not circling the wagons." Jane Shaw, Higher Learning, Meet Lower Job Prospects. The Wall Street Journal, February 5th, 2013 - page A13.
Missouri's State Transfer Policy is well-thought-out and carefully crafted. It permits the transfer of the general-education component of the four-year degree between the state's public and signatory private institutions of higher learning. The policy requires that institutions develop and post a curricular design and an assessment plan indicating how each institution plans to implement and assess its general education. The general education curriculum must consist of 42 credit hours or more. Transfer between institutions is guarenteed. "In the state of Missouri, all public institutions of higher education and each independent or proprietary institution that is signatory to the statewide credit transfer policy must agree that the general education achievements of students who succeed in discharging their obligations are wholly transferable in terms both of graduation credit and of real competencies." The policy then gives clear definition to the content of general education. Two broad areas include: 1) Skills Areas and 2) Knowledge Areas. Each is broken down further. Skills Areas include: a) Communicating, b) Higher-Order Thinking, c) Managing Information, and d) Valuing. Knowledge Areas include: a) Social and Behavioral Sciences, b) Humanities and Fine Arts, c) Mathematics and d)Life and Physical Sciences. Each of these from both areas is further broken down into "Suggested Competencies: Students will demonstrate the ability to..."
If this situation does not invite a well-thought-out plan of academic assessment then what does? Currently assessment exists in a piecemeal fashion. Common sense should be brought to the situation.
A recent tool, the Collegiate Learning Assessment, now exists to measure skills including writing, critical thinking and complex reasoning. If the test is administered upon entering college and again near the completion of general education course work, improvement in these skills is measured. Knowledge areas need only a one-time testing, near the end of general education course work. This portion should reflect actual courses taken. A student should not be tested over psychology if he/she has taken sociology. Hence students select test content from courses completed. To save time a random subset of courses selected could cover two or three subjects from each of the first two knowledge areas. The importance of measuring "value added" is emphasized in A Test of Leadership - 2006. The importance of releasing all information to the public is stressed again and again.
Today's inflated grading practices coupled to low academic expectations seemingly work in students' favor allowing them to accumulate high grades for display on the Academic Transcript. However, the global economy does not care about high letter grades with pluses and minuses. The global economy cares about skills and knowledge. Grade inflation offers students short-term gain but serious long-term loss. This is only one characteristic of letter grading.
Any category-based system of evaluation will inflate. Pass - Fail is one. A GPA can be calculated from this system. If Pass is set at 1 and Fail is set at 0, eventially all transcripts will show a GPA 1.0 as Fail will quickly fall into disuse. Another example is Honors - Pass - Fail where Pass is the new average as suggested by Rosovsky and Hartley, Evaluation and the Academy, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2002. Again a GPA can be obtained with Honors = 2 and Pass = 1. Fail will rapidly disappear, and the GPA will fall between 1.0 and 2.0. Then inflaton will take over and gradually move the GPA toward 2.0.
As part of their newscast entitled: Education Nation, NBC News, December 7th, 2010, reported that Shanghi, China took first place in the international testing program while the U.S. placed 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in math (the U.S. had improved in science but not in math). The newscast projected that Shanghi's results will likely spread across China. "This is a sputnik moment. ... How many wake-up calls do we need?" Brian Williams.
NBC then sent Education Correspondent Rehema Ellis to Shanghi to find out how they did it. Later, (November 2nd, 2011 NBC Nightly News) Ms. Ellis reported that "the whole culture values education. Teachers are highly respected....and kids love to learn."
Good teaching is often preceived as capturing and holding the attention of the student audience. This practice is sometimes referred as the Fox Effect as described in Techniques of Teaching. Valen Johnson discusses the practice in chapter 5 of GRADE INFLATION A Crisis in College Education, Springer, 2003.
George Kuh, author of the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) describes a disengagement compact that exists on many campuses between faculty and students. The compact states: "I'll leave you alone if you leave me alone. That is, I won't make you work too hard (read a lot, write a lot) so that I won't have to grade as many papers or explain why you are not performing well. ...at a relatively low level of effort, many students get decent grades - B's and sometimes better." Arum and Roksa, ibid, page 5. Reprinted by permission.
Today's students are given higher grades for less effort. Many studies support this statement. NSSE research shows that approximately 40 percent of today's students are disengaged while only 10 percent are engaged. Gradeinflation.com shows the GPA continues to increase despite disengagement.
In 2012, The University of Missouri moved its atheletic program from the Big Twelve to the South Eastern Conference. The SEC is more competitive. The move has been well received.
"Some have said - no matter what we do - nothing works for public education, so we might as well just blow it up." President Obama.
"If what you're doing is not working, your not doing the right thing." Dr. Phil.
During the October 22nd, 2012 presidential debate, President Obama stated the need for more math and science teachers. "The president wants 100,000 math and science teachers." Stephanie Cutter, ABC's This Week, October 28th, 2012. Will the President be successful?
In his 2012 bid for a seat in the Missouri State Legislature, Caleb Rowden repeatedly stated that he wanted more math and science teachers in Missouri's classrooms. Will Mr. Rowden be successful?
"It is difficult to overstate the importance of student selection decisions to the success of America's higher educational system." Johnson, ibid - page 168.
"Averaged over the entire undergraduate population at Duke (University), these differences (in grading practices) suggest that students would occupy 7,000 more seats in science and math courses, and approximately the same number fewer seats in humanities courses, if grading policies were more equitable. In other words, if differnces in grading practices between divisions were eliminated, the average undergraduate at Duke would probably take, on average, 4.0 natural science and mathematics electives instead of the 2.8 electives that they currently do. This would represent a nearly 50% increase in the number of natural science courses taken." Johnson - page 192. Quotations reprinted by permission.
Letter grading naturally leads to disparities in grading practices. As grades continue to rise disparities can be expected to magnify. Continued use of SET may dampen such disparities, but only at very high GPAs across all disciplines and avenues of delivery. "Grade inflation cannot be avoided under the current academic system." Cornell Daily Sun, April 15th, 2002.
As part of the University's Teaching Renewal Conference, held in February, 2004 MU's School of Medicine sponsored a session entitled: Grade Inflation, Who Owns the Problem? Presenters included Kimberly Hoffman, Michael Hosokawa, and Caroline Kerber.Dr. Hosokawa began the session by saying: "We don't give grades anymore." The School of Medicine no longer teaches traditional courses including Anatomy, Physiology and Microbiology. Instead, a problems based or case based approach has been adopted. Students are divided into collaborative groups, assigned medical situations to investigate, and are expected to facilitate each other's learning through their group activities. Student performance during the first year is evaluated using a Pass - Fail system with passing being "somewhere around 70%." During the second year students are evaluated using a ranking system.
Experiences that occur during the first year as students are evaluated by Pass - Fail were then related. In short, if a group is not passing they put excessive pressure on faculty. In other words, Pass - Fail can lead to friction between instructors and students. Any category based system of evaluation will do this. If the system is letter grading, and students are not happy with their grades, they push back. Email and SET provide convenient ways to do so.
Dr. Hosokawa then described events during the second year when students are evaluated by use of a ranking system. During this year students "hit the books." They become intensely interrested in where they stand in the class. Apparently ranking causes some anxiety, but the stakes are high. Future careers in medicine are up for grabs.
NBC's Dateline, August 26th, 2006, aired a story entitled: The Education of Ms. Groves. The program related the experiences of a young teacher in Atlanta, GA during her first year of teaching. She began the school year by facing a group of students who had no interest at all in learning much of anything. Their respect for formal education was non-existant. Ms. Groves tried and tried during the first semester to reach her students and make them learn something. They easily resisted all her attempts and onslaughts. However, during the second semester, Ms. Groves decided to post exam scores in public for all to see. The entire situation changed as if overnight. Students began to compete for top scores in the class, and they did so by doing the learning required. Intrinsic motivation had taken over. A lesson conveyed was that public exposure is a teacher's strongest weapon. This is not surprising; college students are very concerned about what appears on their transcripts.
The Missouri State Transfer Policy as described above serves as a clear starting point toward meeting these goals. A well-thought-out assessment policy is needed, but assessment tools are now available. Missouri State Statute supports such assessment. As stated earlier, the Skills area could be assessed using the Collegiate Learning Assessment. Valued added by the general education component of a four year degree can be measured by a pre-test, followed later by the post-test. The Knowledge area can be assessed from test banks that textbook publishers supply. Assessment of the college major can be accomplished by tests such as the Graduate Record Exam or The Major Field Test. These are now in use and have been for many years. All results should be printed on the academic transcript, else the entire effort is wasted.
If a numerical approach to evaluating student academic achievement replaces the current practice of letter grading, then intrinsic motivation toward learning replaces the current extrinsic motivation now in widespread use throughout formal education. Intrinsic motivation is well known to work better. In addition, a fully numerical approach provides clear feedback to students course by course and presents to the public precise academic achievement on the transcript.
If assessment information plus course performance data are made available to the public by all institutions of higher learning in Missouri, a culture of evidence will exist, and Missouri will become a leader in educational reform at the higher education level.
Various academics have stated there is nothing inherently wrong with grade inflation.
The following do not support this view:
Inflated grading practices coupled to lowered academic expectations easily defeat this goal. Inflated grades are not detectable on the academic transcript.
Disparities in grading practices that have arisen because of grade inflation will prevent this from occurring. Students continue to avoid courses that produce lower GPAs.
The current focus on grades rather than on learning will not permit this. Currently multiple avenues of delivery offer students a clear choice between learning outcomes versus high GPAs. This focus on grades shows no sign of abating.