Letters to the Editor

Letter: Grade inflation may hinder learning

Monday, February 4, 2013

To the Editor:

In his recent column, Ian Eppler ’13 is not so much defending inflated grades as he is defending the circumstances he believes naturally led to them (“In defense of grade inflation,” Jan. 31). What is missing is a discussion of whether inflation itself is problematic. Universities like Brown are more selective and diverse than ever. It is quite possible that students here are producing higher quality work than ever before as a result of information access. Undoubtedly, this progress is worth celebrating. But would moving toward uninflated grading undermine this progress?

I don’t blame Eppler for avoiding this question. Presumably, making an A harder to earn will have one of two seemingly opposite effects: encouragement or discouragement, depending on whom you ask. It’s probably worth asking whether encouraging some students justifies discouraging others. I suspect there is disagreement about the point of grading in the first place and about whether it is more “fair” to compare students to peers or to a standard set by each professor.

But we can agree the grade itself, as a signal of student performance, carries less information with grade inflation in place. This is especially true with Brown’s low-resolution grading scale. Grades are weaker signals than in past decades, for students themselves, as well as potential employers and graduate schools. My gut feeling is that Brown students, who are all high-achieving in different ways, should welcome as much discriminative information about themselves as possible — an important part of learning and growing. Eppler writes that “grade inflation is not something to fear,” but neither is understanding our strengths and weaknesses.

Steven Gomez GS