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Good News Against the Spectre of Grade Inflation

If you're a crotchety alumnus like me and believe that too many Cornell students are getting by at Cornell without studying enough the following is very good news:

Cornell Chronicle: Faculty vote may help stop grade inflation :: Research by two Cornell professors provided the resolution's rationale. Assistant professor of economics Talia Bar, professor of marketing and economics Vrinda Kadiyali and an Israeli colleague of the two showed in a 2009 paper that the availability of "grade information online induced students to select leniently graded courses -- or in other words, to opt out of courses they would have selected absent considerations of grades."

The paper, "Grade Information and Grade Inflation: The Cornell Experiment," was published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives. "It seemed like a very thorough evaluation, a very rational approach," said associate professor of nutritional sciences Charles McCormick, who presented the resolution on behalf of the senate's Educational Policy Committee.

The Office of the University Registrar will continue to record median grades offline but make them available only to deans, department chairs and those needing the data for research.

Posting median grades on transcripts is extremely helpful to employers and graduate schools, so keeping the grades on the transcript is a must. I recently reviewed a resume for a Cornellian, and let's just say that significantly-below median grades didn't help the job application at all.

Additionally, what I would love to see Cornell develop is some sort of 'normalized GPA' on student transcripts -- that takes into account the median grade of each of the student's courses -- which would help make comparisons across students (and their differing levels of course difficulty) easier. In this way, for instance, an engineer with an average grade of a B (with course medians of a B-) could better stand out against a Hotelie with an average grade of a B+ (with course medians of a B+). Granted, you could do this manually now, but one pre-calculated number on the transcript would be best.

I also wonder how much this move might disproportionately affect certain types of students over others. After all, for those students with strong social networks -- say the Greek system or an athletic team -- I'm certain gossip on which classes and professors are easier will easily substitute the median grades report.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on May 27, 2011 (#)

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