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ARE WE GETTING SMARTER?

Grade inflation is prevalent at Andover, said John Rogers, Dean of Studies, but there have been no recent institutional efforts to combat it. ?Last spring, 57 percent of students made the honor roll. This corresponds to an increase of more than 15 percent from only five years ago and more than 110 percent from 25 years ago. ?In the winter term of 1974, only 25 percent of the student body qualified for the honor roll with a grade point average of 5.0 or higher.?Rogers said, “None of us live in a bubble – numbers have an absolute meaning; they change according to their cultural context, and that’s just the way it works.”?Various faculty members and administrators offer different explanations for the rise in grades across the board.?Fear to give grades lower than a four could be one cause of grade inflation. Brian Faulk, Instructor in Chemistry, said, “I know faculty members who are terrified to give threes. It’s pretty much a four-number scale: three, four, five, six. Even in advanced classes, they don’t give out threes.”?Thayer Zaeder ’83, Instructor in Art, said that teachers resist giving lower grades because they are apprehensive about student reactions.?Zaeder said, “We don’t give as many threes as we used to, and in some ways I think that the four is average, whereas three historically might have been more average.”?In the English department, once a term, Jonathan Stableford, Chair of the English department, makes available the distribution of grades in English by section. ?Stableford said, “[The English department] ends up talking about it in a broad sense. It is an individual calibration.”?Stableford has never forced a teacher to change the grades he or she thinks are appropriate for the sake of an even distribution.?“If you actually look, a three is technically satisfactory. But even for me, when I see a student has a three, it’s a warning bell for me,” said Faulk. “When you talk to older faculty members, they’re not alarmed to see threes since they’ve been around and saw these grades.”?Zaeder said, “Sometimes a student might be pretty close to a three, but I’d be more inclined to give them a four, because I think the three is seen more as a punishment sometimes. It has a negative connotation,”?According to Rogers, grades are not a priority to teachers; rather, emphasis is placed on learning and improvement. Students, on the other hand, may view grades as more important. ?Keith Robinson, Instructor in Biology and Chemistry, said, “When we grade we don’t think about the grade students received, but what they learned.”?He continued, “My own philosophy is I’m perfectly happy discussing grades with students, but I want the conversation to be rooted in how do we use our grading system to reflect what a student has learned.”?Natalie Schorr, Instructor in French, wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “Fairness and transparency are the features that matter whatever the grading system. Fairness, so that there’s a reasonable level of consistency across the board, and students choose courses for the right reasons rather than for grades. Transparency, so that someone looking at grades can accurately understand what they represent. As long as a grading system embodies fairness and transparency, grades can be deemphasized and the focus can be on learning rather than on grades.”?Grade inflation may result from discrepancies between teachers and departments. “I graduated in 1983,” said Zaeder. “I think the same situation [of grade inflation] prevailed back then that prevails now, where you have discrepancy between the fortitude of the teacher, depending on how strong or hard they grade.”?“It varies from teacher to teacher, not subject to subject; some teachers are harder, some are easier,” said Cameron Phillips ’11. “Teachers grading and teaching different is something good here; it sets Andover apart.”?Additional reporting was done by Shane Bouchard, Emily Scoble and Andrew Cho.