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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

'A' Students: College Grade Inflation Might Be Ohio's Big Problem

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio (TDB) -- Over the decades, SAT scores for Ohio's high school grads have been down, steady, or up a notch at best, and state legislators gathered in Columbus have been prodded by outgoing Gov. Bob Taft to stiffen education standards. His goal is to ensure students are prepared for the academic rigors of college campuses. For example, Taft wants more English and math, which he sees as important subjects if the state is to find its footing in the global economy.

But we haven't heard much about grade inflation on the state's campuses. Now there is some evidence out of Bowling Green State University from a student-journalist that grade inflation is a real phenomenon. Tim Samspon found that professors have been ''rewarding poor work with high marks" and he dug up some proof, which was published in the BG News this month. "On a whole" Sampson reported, "the average GPA of University students has increased steadily over the past two decades. According to the Department of Institutional Research, in 1986 the average undergraduate cumulative GPA was 2.75, two years ago that figure had risen to 3.1."

In Athens, researchers at Ohio University looked at grades there and found that 36 percent of the grades in 1999 were A- and above, while only 21 percent were C and below. They published their findings in 2002 in the American Society for Engineering Education. Administrators in Athens and Bowling Green are aware of the issue and there have been moves to turn A's into real A's. But they have had to swim against a tide.

''Academic standards at Ohio University have been found to be inflated," the researchers there said, adding that a ''valuable next step is to consider them against the backdrop of national standards in order to reasonably and realistically gauge their meaning in the broader national context."

In October 2005, the Ohio Board of Regents said in its monthly newsletter that several central Ohio colleges had partnered with the Columbus public schools to prepare students for their campuses. ''College officials pledged to conduct research on urban education, develop student-aid programs and coordinate their results with one another. The goals of the program under the curriculum category include: making classes more rigorous, increasing the numbersof students taking college entrance exams, eliminating grade inflation and improving the ability of teachers to describe what colleges expect of incoming students,'' the newsletter said.

That seemed to suggest the regents -- who oversee the state's higher education programs -- were somewhat focused on high school grade inflation. Sampson, the BG News reporter, spoke to Roger Thibault, associate dean of Bowling Green State University's college of arts and sciences, and the administrator pinned the grade inflation on professors rather than the school itself. ''It's more individual instructors than anything else,'' Thibault was quoted as saying.

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