Grade Inflation

Faculty behaviour

Faculty pressure. According to Mitchell (1998) a particularly insidious problem is grade variation within and among individual courses. Other faculty members create and maintain pressure toward inflation. Faculty with higher standards tend to relax their expectations to avoid the perception of being unfair and, as a consequence, unpopular. * Faculty perceptions. Cole (1994) attributes the problem of grade inflation to faculty laziness, claiming that it is easier to record a good grade than a bad one. Or, to cite Zirkel (1999), "When the rationalizations are stripped away from the rationales, the basic problem is that high grades are simply easier" (p. 255). Faculty do not have to justify high grades; they do have to defend low marks.

Faculty mindset. Younger faculty members bring to the academy their own experiences of inflated grades in high school and university. After being conditioned to grade inflation in their own lives, they may see the assignment of high grades as a normal occurrence.

Blurring of the faculty-student relationship. As many areas, particularly education, have shifted from a strictly objective positivist view of learning to a more constructivist approach, the nature of the student-faculty relationship has changed as the traditional hierarchy of faculty-student relationship is replaced by an apprenticeship model. When this happens, professors may experience difficulty in reconciling the activity of teaching as involving collaborative learning between teachers and students and the distancing that traditional approaches to student evaluation create. When there is a growing sense of equality between faculty and students or when a faculty member encourages or allows a more familiar milieu, objectivity may be diminished, professors may show a benign reluctance to fail students or to mix teaching and evaluative roles, and grade inflation may result.

© Margret Winzer, 2005. This site last updated: May 3, 2005