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Questions of grade inflation with B+ median at Ohio State

January 12, 2014

shen.414@osu.edu
A student works on homework.  Credit: Courtesy of MCT

A student works on homework.
Credit: Courtesy of MCT

While a C has been long expected to be representative of average work, it turns out that Ohio State students aren’t facing that mark as often as a B+, leading to concerns about grade inflation from some students.

The median grade given in undergraduate courses taught at OSU’s Columbus campus is a B+, said Linda Katunich, the senior associate director of OSU Enrollment Services Analysis and Reporting.

A median can be defined as the middle number in a data set and is often different from an average.

Some students said they believe grade inflation, meaning raising grades without specific academic reason, might be happening at OSU.

Sara Katrenich, a second-year in history, said there seems to be blatant inflation.

“If you look at 50,000 or 40,000 students and there are so many people getting (a) B+, I think that is an inflation of the grade scale,” Katrenich said. “I would say the reason is more than just OSU students are smarter than other schools’ (students).”

Brad Myers, the university registrar, said it’s the large number of students at OSU that causes such a high median grade. More specifically, he said when comparing grades earned in the College of Engineering versus the College of Arts and Sciences, engineering grades are “definitely lower” while Arts and Sciences grades are typically higher.

Myers said, though, he can’t draw a conclusion unless more specific data is released.

OSU spokesman Gary Lewis said in a Friday email the university is hesitant to assume grade inflation is happening.

“The Ohio State University has 44,000 undergraduate students on the Columbus campus and we take great pride in selecting and educating the best and brightest. The topic of ‘grade inflation’ is a complex question and we’re cautious about drawing simple conclusions from a very complex set of variables for a very large population such as ours,” Lewis said.

Megan Sullivan, a fourth-year in ecology, said she wouldn’t have expected a B+ to be the median grade.

“I was surprised it was B+ because I thought it would be a C or C+,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said the higher median grade might be caused by professors curving grades in large classes.

“Generally, especially with the larger classes, a lot of the grades are curved higher than the (students) are just getting,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said having smaller classes could help prevent there from being an especially high median grade.

“The professor could actually talk to (the) student and get to know them and focus more on each individual student and give them the grades they actually deserve,” Sullivan said.

Some students, however, said having a B+ as the median grade is reasonable.

Nan Wilson, a third-year in public affairs and Chinese, said some OSU students deserve a high grade because of their hard work.

“I don’t find it surprising (that a B+ is the median grade) only because I’ve been a lot of classes where all the students are so engaged and they are so excited to learn,” Wilson said. “I’ve been (surprised) by how intelligent people are.”

The Harvard Crimson, Harvard College’s student newspaper, reported Dec. 3 the median grade at Harvard College was an A- and the most frequently awarded grade was an A, which the paper said supported fears that the school has lesser grading standards than other comparable schools.

According to the U.S. News 2014 Best Colleges list, Harvard University is ranked No. 2 and OSU is ranked No. 52.

Deija McLean, a third-year in early and middle childhood studies, said she wasn’t expecting students to care about grades as much as they do when she came to OSU.

“We do have really a lot of high-achieving students. I was really surprised when I came to college.” McLean said. “People are really focusing on studies and people really, really, really want A’s.”


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Comments (9)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    With the stiff entrance requirements, it’s not especially surprising that the median performance would rise with an overall higher caliber of student. While some professors do curve, many do not. I think the way the article is written suggests a suspicion for a campus-wide plot that faculty are buying into a practice to artificially inflate grades. That is ludicrous. Again, OSU and Harvard – both institutions with extremely tough entrance requirements are bound to have gifted and motivated students who challenge themselves and contually demand their own excellence.

    Why don’t you write an article about how great these students and faculty are? How the best-of-the-best position OSU so strongly for research and preparing its undergraduates for post-grad studies at not only OSU, but also other eminent institutions around the world.

    Years ago when OSU had open enrollment, a degree from here didn’t have nearly the prestige it does today.

    Not everything good has a sinister reason!

  2. Just a continuation of the grade inflation now found at high schools. Our local one had 70% at 4.0 or greater even as teachers will tell you reading, math, and comprehension are markedly worse than 10 years ago. I'm a hiring manager and I assure you the typical college graduate is far less prepared for real life thanks in part to the "everyone is special" attitude the prevails today.

  3. Anonymous says:

    First of all, I'm surprised they let a student publish such an article. A subject like this should be written by a professional, not a biased student who (maybe?) has some sort of beef with the university? Why else would you write something like this?

    Second, the author/student starts off comparing an average grade of a C, to a median grade of a B+. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to see they're comparing apples and oranges. Who knows, the average grade at OSU could be a C, but we don't know that because of the bias in the reporting and lack of research. A B+ median isn't the greatest thing in the world for such a large school (but isn't bad, I will admit). With over 50,000 students, that means over 25,000 have under a B+. Is that inflation?? I think more research needs to be done; perhaps gathering data from other comparable (in size) schools with a great reputation and a high degree of rigorous courses. No one seemed to mention the incoming freshman have an average 28.5 ACT score. Shouldn't that be important (and easy to get to) information when accusing a school of grade inflation?

    It seems like this student is just trying to stir the pot here and I hope most people have enough sense to pass this off as what it is…an average C writing assignment.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Yes, it IS grade inflation…and still the undergrads whine about grades. This is what comes of 1) forcing professors to submit themselves to student evaluations, and 2) having such a preponderance of graduate teaching assistants/instructors, who teach to those evaluations. What's the easiest way to get good evaluations? Easy A's. This really isn't rocket science. Student evaluation of instruction should be eliminated…the AVERAGE for those SEI's is over 4 out of 5…either OSU has the greatest instructional staff on the planet, or students are utterly clueless about what is and is not good teaching. So…what are they rewarding so richly in those evaluations (HINT: it ain't rigorous standards)?

  5. Anonymous says:

    Rebecca Schuman, a former contingent professor at OSU, actually wrote a column about this issue for Huffington Post about her OSU classes. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rebecca-schuman/grading-time-i-give-up-yo_b_1489430.html

  6. Yilong Xiao says:

    Why not? Sure that professional analysts could give profound reasoning, but students are the ones directly experiencing such issues. There is absolutely no problem letting the author voicing her opinions and bring attention to her peers. Also, I happened to be a grader in the last semester for a not-that-easy course. My job is not to fail anybody, but sometimes it just make me sick to give like 80+% of the grade to a student whose work clearly implies his/her weak grasp on the principles of a certain subject.

  7. Matt Navarre says:

    On ¶2, your inference that a B+ median means that 25,000 students have below a B+ average is false. B+ is the middle number but that does not mean that many students–say 20K–have a B+ average.

    A forced curve to a certain grade would alleviate grade inflation concerns because employers would be aware of the context behind a certain student's GPA, assuming OSU would publish what its fixed curve is. One potential issue is that a forced curve only works if every department honors the curve and different majors would have incentives to cheat so that there students could get better jobs. Better to have specific curves for each major.

  8. Anonymous says:

    “First of all, I’m surprised they let a student publish such an article. A subject like this should be written by a professional, not a biased student who (maybe?) has some sort of beef with the university? Why else would you write something like this?”

    Um, maybe someone who cares about reporting FACTS? It’s funny how you accuse the writer of bias but then advocate for whitewashing the fact that OSU grades are wildly inflated. And yes, they are. We instructors are under immense pressure to keep our “customers” happy. And with OSU turning more to adjunct and contingent labor, instructors are going to be under more and more pressure to teach to SEIs. And at OSU, the way to pacify the masses is to hand out A’s like candy. And hand out candy, too.

  9. Dan Bray says:

    The major problem I see with this article seems to be that the author has limited her "student interviews" to nearly exclusively students that she works with as a student assistant with the Office of Student Life (save one student interviewed). It's no secret to employers that grades are whitewashed here at Ohio State, nor is it a secret that this occurs at almost all major institutions of higher education in the United States of America. Most employers know the difference between a good grade and a bad grade given modern grade inflation and can identify exceptional students/candidates for employment via their intern, volunteer, and work histories present on their resumes. However, I find it odd that the author has chosen a convenience sample in the writing of this article and cannot remove from my mind the possibility that this author has intentionally chosen to interview students strongly in favour of her own views at the expense of any contradicting points of view. I would also have been interested in knowing both the median grade AND the average grade received at Ohio State and data showing that this is a uniquely recent occurrence.

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