Editorials

September 2, 2014

At UNC-CH, a better grade of grades

Students seek them out like spun gold, those courses that can produce an easy "A." Colleges know it, and so do prospective employers and graduate school admissions offices. But cheers to UNC-Chapel Hill for offering a fuller accounting of what grades mean.

Students seek them out like spun gold, those courses where showing up, doing a little work and having an earnest meeting or two with the professor can produce an easy "A."

Colleges know it, and so do prospective employers and graduate school admissions offices.

Now the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is adding something to student transcripts that many students aren't going to like. But that's OK. Now those transcripts will include, as The News & Observer's Jane Stancill reports, a measure of context. In addition to a grade, the transcript as seen by employers and graduate schools will include the median grade in the class, the number of students in a section and something called the SPA, for snapshot average grade. That number, Stancill reports, is rather like ranking a football team's schedule in terms of its toughness.

Consider a course in English literature taught by a professor known to be fairly easy on grading. A student's transcript says "B," which looks pretty good. But the average grade turns out to be an "A." The "B" does not look so good anymore.

Grade inflation is real and documented. What's the most common grade now awarded? An "A," which old-timers might say used to be rare. Those "A" grades make up 43 percent of all grades. The "D" and the "F" account for less than 10 percent.

Students may be smarter, but they're not that much smarter, except perhaps in shopping for easy courses. Universities themselves, particularly the elite private schools and top public ones where grade inflation is most common, have not kept a close eye on courses that are popular for the wrong reasons. UNC-CH has taken the right step toward truth in grading.

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