Forty Questions: Grading Article In Teachers College Record
Average GPA over the time period 1930-2006 as a function of school type. Grey dots represent individual data points. Colored squared represent the mean GPA for each school type over time. Suslow (1976) shown for comparison.
The rise in grades in the 1960s correlates with the social upheavals of the Vietnam War. It was followed by a decade period of static to falling grades. The cause of the renewal of grade inflation, which began in the 1980s and has yet to end, is subject to debate, but it is difficult to ascribe this rise in grades to increases in student achievement. Students’ entrance test scores have not increased (College Board, 2007), students are increasingly disengaged from their studies (Saenz et al., 2007), and the literacy of graduates has declined (Kutner et al., 2006). A likely influence is the emergence of the now common practice of requiring student-based evaluations of college teachers. Whatever the cause, colleges and universities are on average grading easier than ever before.
Private and public schools graded similarly until the 1950s when grading practices for these schools began to bifurcate. The reasons for this bifurcation are not fully understood, but it was during this time that quantitative measures of undergraduates took hold in graduate school and professional school admissions. It appears that sometime in the 1950s to 1960s, the major purpose of grading at colleges and universities changed from an internal measure and motivator of student performance to a measure principally used for external evaluation of graduates. As a Yale dean noted about Yale’s abandonment of their traditional qualitative assessments in favor of the common four point grading system, “We wanted to force graduate schools to look at the student, not at a grade point average. But to a large extent, our effort has been frustrated” (Polan, 1970).