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April 18, 2002

Grade INFLATION: Harvard study details its own rising grade problem

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences study said that grade inflation appeared most noticeably at Ivy League institutions, particularly Harvard. A study of undergraduate grades at Harvard, released last November by that university's Faculty of Arts and Sciences, showed that almost half of all grades were A or A-minus. The report details 16 years of grade inflation, including the following facts:

* Since 1985-1986, mean undergraduate grades have risen 8.5 percent.

* In 2000-2001 less than 12 percent of grades were B-minus or lower.

The study also found that mean grades for students in small classes — 24 students or fewer — were almost 10 percent higher than those of students in large classes — 75 or more students.

* Ninety-one percent of Harvard's seniors last spring graduated with honors (defined as B-minus average in their majors or B average overall).

(According to an October Boston Globe story on grade inflation at Harvard, by comparison, 51 percent of Yale students graduated with honors; 44 percent of Princeton seniors, and 40 percent of Dartmouth seniors. In 1946, undergraduate honors at Harvard were awarded to 32 percent of the graduates, the Globe reported.) As a result of the study, Harvard now is providing academic departments with their grading histories so faculty can discuss departmental grading trends and policies.

Harvard also began requiring all faculty in its College of Arts and Sciences to report their grading policies to a supervisory body. That group, led by Dean of Undergraduate Education Susan G. Pederson, is looking at the issue institution-wide.

The Harvard faculty's Education Policy Committee also is looking at the data and is expected to make recommendations on grading in the coming months.

–Peter Hart

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