Everyone gets an A!



Judging by the grades, it seems as if everyone who goes to colleges in the U.S. is pretty darn smart. There are a lot of A’s out there. In fact, according to a study published in the Teachers College Record by Professor Christopher Healy of Furman University, grade inflation is rampant in American colleges and universities. Today, an A is the most common grade given in American Colleges:

  • A Grade – 43%
  • B Grade – 34%
  • C Grade – 15%

That’s an increase of 28% more A’s since 1960, and 12% more A’s since 1988. Professor Healy also noted that private universities and colleges give significantly more A’s and B’s than public universities and colleges. For many who are involved in education, that begs the question: are students really getting smarter, or is there a problem with the grading system itself?

Professional evaluators step in

Some universities are turning to novel approaches in grading as a means of deflecting criticism regarding grade inflation. Instead of allowing the professors who are instructing to grade, they are turning to “evaluators” who never have contact with the students and don’t concern themselves with the all-important end of semester professorial reviews, and thus a possible bias in grading.

For example, Western Governor’s University has a team of 300 professional evaluators. The evaluators must hold at least a master’s degree in their field of specialty. Before they are allowed to begin grading, they must undergo a month long training program. Additionally, they are required to partake in regularly scheduled “calibration exercises” that asses whether or not their grading remains consistent with their training.

Can a computer accurately grade an essay?

Some educational institutions are going even further. They are utilizing computer technology to grade student work. While that may seem old hat to many, we’re not talking about bubbling in answers on a multiple-choice test. We’re talking about something much more complex: a student essay.

The University of Central Florida biology department holds extremely large lecture classes at the intro level, sometimes up to 1,000 students in a class. Pam Thomas, a biology instructor, decided to begin using computer software programs last year on essay assignments. This is now possible because of advancements in artificial intelligence design. Many students were wary about being graded by a “robot,” but Thomas says those fears have been unfounded. Although there were a few challenges to the grades, on review, the majority of the challenged computer-graded essays were correctly graded.

New Technology allows faster response

Proponents of the technology say that there are several advantages to computer grading, even for essays:

  • Quicker turnaround time: a computer can grade up to 1,000 essays in a few minutes.
  • Different sections of one course have more consistent grading across the board, without human bias.
  • Computer programs don’t get fatigued the way human graders do.

Of course, many educators remain skeptical and critical of the technology, especially since it is still so new and largely unadopted at most campuses across the nation. However, many in the industry see a bright future ahead for grading software at the college level: at least three educational development companies are actively working to develop grading “robots.”