Thursday, January 14, 2010

Grade Inflation: Bad

Less grade inflation ==> more effort by students. Less "happiness," perhaps, but more effort and more learning.

Real Costs of Nominal Grade Inflation? New Evidence from Student Course

Philip Babcock, Economic Inquiry, forthcoming

Abstract: College grade point averages in the United States rose substantially between the 1960s and the 2000s. Over the same period, study time declined by almost
a half. This paper uses a 12-quarter panel of course evaluations from the University of California, San Diego to discern whether a link between grades and effort investment holds up in a micro setting. Results indicate that average study time would be about 50% lower in a class in which the average expected grade was an "A" than in the same course taught by the same instructor in which students expected a "C." Simultaneity suggests estimates are biased toward 0. Findings do not appear to be driven primarily by the individual student's expected grade, but by the average expected grade of others in the class. Class-specific characteristics that generate low expected grades appear to produce higher effort choices — evidence that
nominal changes in grades may lead to real changes in effort investment.

(Nod to Kevin L)


Tom said...

That's odd; I didn't know that people respond to incentives.

Oh, wait...

Simon Spero said...

[Is the paper up on SSRN?]

I'd be interested in how the controls were structured.

Assume, arguendo, that evaluating and correcting assignments has different values for the instructor and for the students.

1: Determining which parts of the course to date have been properly understood on average, suggesting changes in course structure for the instructor.

2: Determining areas of weakness for individual students, suggesting areas where that student may which to focus.

3: For a course with multiple, mixed-ability sections following a set syllabus, with significant differences between section performance identifying areas where various TAs may need to focus.

4: For the situation in (3), except the same problem areas show up across all sections, these problems may suggest a need to revise either the course design, or TA preparation.

5: If the predominant goal of most undergraduates is to maximize GPA relative to others in their cohort (whether for simple signalling behavior, or in zero-sum intraspecific competion), and if the predominant goal for instructors is to maximize student learning with mimimum interaction with the head of department (apart from MM, of course), the dean, or 101st Air assault parents, would it not be better to avoid releasing information solely of use in calculating grades when returning non-final assignments?

If it becomes necessary to actively seek out extra information in order to determine one's posterior grade, the student is forced to compute the price/effort they are willing to pay for each extra bit.


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