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Don’t Blame Adjuncts for Grade Inflation—Blame Plummeting Expectations

By Donald Hurwitz

GRADE INFLATIONThe subject is hardly new, and it is real: GPAs on college campuses sit on the border of A-/B+, and grades have ratcheted up a notch every decade or so. It’s hard to make much of academic administrators’ plea for rigor and critical thinking skills when either they’ve already been achieved or there’s no metric to capture progress. Yet the conversation about grade inflation focuses our attention on the wrong things.

Given the apparent wholesale precollege pedagogical shift of “teaching to the test,” is grade inflation merely a function of students becoming superb test-takers? College classroom experience and raw scores suggest not. Is it that faculty are uncaring? On the contrary, professors are deeply concerned about students’ lack of basic skills and study habits, and many faculty regularly employ elaborate assessment schemes and pour dozens of hours into reviewing student work.

Yet it’s hard to square the sense of distress about student ability, orientation, or performance with the high grades given out at the end of the term.

Maybe we should do away with grades altogether, given the time and attention they absorb and how little anyone has to show for it.

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