Actually, I’m not so sure this is a debate. In order for it to be a debate one would presume that you have differing opinions on the topic and I don’t think I’ve spoken to a single teacher who doesn’t think that grades are “inflated”. When I think back to my grades (for all you Ontarians–when I say grade, I mean mark, but we’re the only people who call them marks apparently) in high school, my highest grade in English was probably a 93%. That was considered to be a very good grade. One might say exceptional. I wasn’t the best student, but I was a very good student.
I’m not a total packrat, but I did keep my old high school essays. When I look at my Hamlet essay now from the lens of a high school English teacher and consider how I would assess it, the grade is much higher than the grade I received 13 (eesh….) years ago. True, I’m a little biased, but I think there is something interesting we can learn from this.
My teachers didn’t use rubrics. They didn’t assess using a balance among different categories of learning , eg/ Knowledge, Thinking, Communication, and Application (I kept the marking schemes–where they existed). I had one teacher whose strategy involved giving you a grade of 100 and then deducting marks for each flaw. I had another teacher who believed that no student would ever receive 100% on an essay because it could never be perfect.
These seemed like valid marking schemes/philosophies to me at the time, but now, I have a different perspective.
A student could (and did) receive a grade of 100% on a culminating task in my class, because we don’t use norm referenced assessments; we use criterion referenced assessments. I don’t think an essay (and I’m just going to stick with this example for the sake of argument, not because I think the essay represents the pinnacle of human achievement) needs to be perfect in order to get 100%.
Now, hang on, here’s why:
I don’t construct a rubric for an essay using expectations that students can’t meet, and then assess the degree to which students almost meet the expectations. That would seem pretty unjust to me.
I don’t assess the other students in the class based on how they compare to the strongest student in my class.
So it’s possible that I could have two students in my class: one who writes an excellent essay, meeting every expectation, and one who does that and then some. But I’m not going to go back and dock marks from the first student’s essay because the next student’s essay was better. So they might both get 100% even though the second student has an even stronger essay.
Some people might say that’s not fair, but I think those people are assuming that the reward for demonstrating your learning is a corresponding number. And as far as I can tell, that is not the purpose of assessment and evaluation. Grades are not payment for services rendered.
I can’t speak to grade inflation in other subject areas, but that’s my take on why grades are higher now in English than they were when I was in high school.
I know that guidance cousellors and universities are finding this frustrating because competition is so high for scholarships and if more and more students are getting higher grades, well, you get the picture.
But I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. Maybe what colleges and universities have to realize is something that we teachers are already realizing: a numerical value does not provide an accurate picture of a student’s achievement.