Fake grades for future teachers

by Josh Fatzick - Coastal Carolina University on September 1, 2011

Those who can’t do, teach? According to a new report, it might be true: Education majors get easier grades in college.

The study by Dr. Cody Koedel, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Missouri, compares the grades of education students with non-education students at two large state schools—and finds a gap. According to the report, “Students who take education classes at universities receive significantly higher grades than students who take classes in every other academic discipline.”

In the two schools examined in the study, Indiana University and the University of Missouri, the average grade point averages for education students were 3.66 and 3.80, and at Missouri, “every single student received an A (that is, 4.0) in one out of every five (non-freshman) undergraduate education classes.”

The high grades aren’t just exclusive to Indiana and Missouri, though. Another report by Koedel, uses data from other schools to show similar grade distributions across the country.

“The data consistently show that education departments award exceptionally favorable grades to virtually all their students in all their classes,” Koedel said.

The report doesn’t find any discernible difference in the capabilities of education students and other majors. In fact, education majors score lower than students in other academic departments on college entrance exams.

Koedel’s report sees the effects of the grade inflation as wide-ranging and troubling:

“The culture of low standards for educators is problematic because it creates a disconnect between teachers’ perceptions of acceptable performance and the perceptions of everyone else Undergraduate education majors become teachers, teachers become principals, and principals become district-level administrators. Ultimately, a sizable fraction of the workforce in the education sector is trained in education departments where evaluation standards are astonishingly low. Should we be surprised that low standards persist in K-12 schools?”

Education isn’t the only area where grade inflation is an issue, though. Since the 1960s grades in all departments have risen at an alarming rate.

Stuart Rojstaczer, a now retired geology professor from Duke University, compiled grade data from over 230 universities across the country, containing the grades of over 2 million students. He found that the average GPA for students at both public and private universities in 1960 was about a 2.52. The average GPA for students at public universities in 2006 was about a 2.93, and for students at private universities the average grade was about a 3.28.

According to Rojstaczer’s data, “A’s represent 43 percent of all letter grades (received by students), an increase of 28 percentage points since 1960 and 12 percentage points since 1988. D’s and F’s total typically less than 10 percent of all letter grades.”

A’s are now the most common grade received on American college campuses.

While the root causes of grade inflation are largely ambiguous, one aspect of the problem may be the instructor evaluation forms students are forced to fill out at the end of each semester.

“Teachers are humans too, they want to get good evaluations, and when students get bad grades they tend to give poor evaluations,” said Dr. Wesley Fondren, assistant professor of Communication at Coastal Carolina University.

Since many of the professors on college campuses today are adjunct professors (professors hired on a part-time, contractual, basis) the difference between good student evaluations and bad student evaluations may mean the difference between those professors having a job next semester or not.

“My fear with grade inflation is that we’re not giving (students) the education they deserve, and we’re sending them out into the workforce believing that their way of doing things is acceptable; but it’s not,” Fondren said. “There’s no grade inflation in the workforce. If you don’t do your job…you get fired.”

Josh Fatzick is the news editor of the Coastal Carolina Chanticleer. He is a contributor to The College Fix.

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