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By G. Patrick Revere
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 16, 1997

Grandma's 'A' meant a lot more in her day

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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Grade inflation is present at the University of Arizona across the board, although more prominent in graduate-level courses, suggest statistics provided by the UA Registrar's Office.

The percentage of "A" grades posted per number of letter grades posted in 1987 for class-levels 100 through 900 was less than 33 percent, according to the grade and unit summary reports. In 1996, the percentage of "A" grades per total of letter grades in all classes reached its height at more than 38 percent, showing a steady increase each year.

Likewise, the percentage of "C" grades posted across the board during that time has decreased. In 1987 the percentage of "C" grades per letter grade was about 23 percent, but declined to less than 19 percent in 1996.

The increase, however, is much higher in 600-level graduate courses where the percentage shot up a total of 32 percentage points from 1987 to 1991.

In those graduate courses since 1991, the percentage of "A" grades posted per total letter grades has remained relatively steady, fluctuating less than 2 percent during that time, and settling just below 77 percent last year.

The question remains, though, have those "C" grades really turned into "A" grades?

Only 7 percent of students surveyed in 1969 held an "A" grade point average, and 25 percent had a "C" average or less, according to an article printed Aug. 28 in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The article, which cites a professor from Teachers College at Colombia University as the source, said 26 percent of students polled today have an "A" average, and only 9 percent have a "C" average or worse.

"In my day we used to joke that at Stanford the average grade was an 'A'," said Darrell Sabers, head of education psychology in the UA's College of Education. "Now it's not just Stanford I think there are fewer of us around that would give a 'C' in graduate school."

Sabers, a professor at UA for more than 26 years, added that he knew a now-retired professor that would let his students pick their grade on the first day of class so he could "get on with teaching."

Though this grading procedure seems extreme, and far from the norm among educators, it is also a not-so-uncommon sentiment that grades just get in the way of teaching.

"I think I've failed if I fail my students," said Yetta Goodman, professor of language, reading and culture in the College of Education. "We have fine students, and of course they're going to get good grades. Why shouldn't they?"

At Stanford University in the 1970s and 1980s a failing grade wasn't even possible, and not until 1994 was it reinstated as a grade that would show on a student's transcript. The Faculty Senate at Stanford also tightened restrictions on dropping classes, a common reason offered by college officials for the increase in "A" grades. A student receiving a lower grade, they say, always has the option to drop the class, making the numbers look more severe than they really are.

The grade and unit report, however, shows the "withdraw," or "W" grade, remaining steady at about 4 percent to 5 percent since 1987.

Sharon Kha, assistant to the president, said there are too many factors involved to be able to look at a set of numbers and attribute the increase to grade inflation.

"The quality of the student has increased, SAT scores have gone up and the regents have required entering students to be better qualified than they have been in the past," Kha said.

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