December 13, 2011

"The grade distribution for all courses at UW-Madison is available going back to the spring 2004 semester."

"Unlike studies of aggregate grades that document grade inflation with time, this site provides grade distributions for each individual course and section. The data clearly shows that students in STEM courses at Madison receive markedly lower grades than students in education courses."


Chip S. said...

Lower grades in engineering courses than in education courses?

When are you going to add a "No shit, Sherlock" tag?

JackOfVA said...

Was true in 1964-68 when I was working on my BSEE.

m stone said...

Grades are a joke. I teach at both a public and private university. Grade inflation is rampant.

Students don't have to underperform; professors accommodate them. Looks good on evaluations when students love you.

DrBerkeley said...

I am a professor at Berkeley, and believe that STEM course grades are inflated to begin with. Forget the comparison to non-STEM majors.

bgates said...

Just ask the education students to donate some of their A's to the needy.

Chip S. said...

Serious question for mstone and DrBerkeley:

Is your preferred method of grading to allocate more-or-less fixed percentages of scores to each letter grade? (e.g., A = top 10%, etc.) Under that system, how would graduate and professional schools set their admissions policies? (It's a given that their rankings depend in part on the undergraduate GPAs of the students they enroll.)

IOW, how would you establish the "exchange rate" between a Berkeley C and a SF State A?

john said...

"Meanwhile, this student editorial in the Bowdoin newspaper argues that faculty at selective schools must continue to inflate grades so that students can maintain a competitive advantage."

Bowdoin students - breaking through the A-barrier with grades previously thought to be unreachable.

John said...

As the holder of a MS in education from a well respected school of education I can speak to this.

Schools of education of entirely free of any pretense of educating their attendees. They are totally content free.

I managed to make it all the way through without taking a single test, quiz, exam or anything like

In one class we had to come up with a game for the students to play that would, supposedly, teach them something. Out of about 15 students, I was the only one who did not come up with a variation on Wheel of Fortune.

I believe I was also the only one who got a B on that assignment.

The main thing I learned in that 2 years was that American schools are in remarkably good shape considering the way we educate teachers.

Yes, I know how awful the system is. I am simply surprised it is not even worse.

John Henry

John said...

BTW: My cumulative grade point average was 3.98

There were several who graduated with me who had 4.0 averages.

John Henry

Maguro said...

The data clearly shows that students in STEM courses at Madison receive markedly lower grades than students in education courses.

So what? Education majors and STEM majors don't compete against each other for jobs, scholarships, grant money or...pretty much anything. For all intents and purposes, they went to two different schools.

Not really seeing any problem here.

Big Mike said...

It's been 45 years now, but I still vividly remember my shock discovering that in the same semester I took thermodynamics and partial differential equations my sister had Fairy Tales II and Bulletin Board Arranging.

Part of the shock was learning that an elementary ed major needed two semesters to cover fairy tales.

David said...

Maguro said...

"Not really seeing any problem here."

Those who have not been held accountable will not hold others accountable?

AJ Lynch said...

I had to hire a bunch of people back in 1988 and so I received and read at hundreds of resumes. I [whose GPA was 2.6 as a night school grad at a commuter school in 1977] was shocked at how many applicants had 3.5 and higher,dean lists etc.

MadisonMan said...

So a good interview question would have been: What would you tell a person with a 2.6 GPA from a Community College who is competing with you for this job?

MadisonMan said...

Sorry, Commuter School, not Community College.

sorepaw said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AJ Lynch said...

Mad Man:

We had such a hiring need, we did "drive by" interviews. Was the person alive, available and likely to stay for a while? If so, they were hired.

The best kid I ever hired was a college student who became an actuary. She was smart- worked for us for four years during summers and part-time during the school year. The next smartest was a high school grad and Army vet. He went on to be a computer network expert.

PatCA said...


Master's grades are another ball game. Most of the students I knew were getting a master's in Ed. to get a raise; if this were discontinued and merit substituted as criteria for that raise, enrollment at many grad schools would collapse. So the grades are soft, so to speak.

I have to agree with insty--it seems like this house of cards is just going to blow away one day soon.

bagoh20 said...

Look you STEM people, the numbers are right there. The education grads are just smarter. Here, I'll put it in your language, an equation: Better grades = smarter.

Why else have grades? I think your lifetime earnings should be capped according to GPA.

If you didn't graduate, you're off the grid, and can make whatever want.

Maguro said...

It matters, not because Ed majors are likely to compete directly with Engineering majors, but because the American Ed School system keeps recruiting academically weak college students who go on to dumb down public K-12.

We are talking about the fact that Engineering majors get lower grades than Education majors. If colleges decide to grade Education majors more stringently, they still won't be as smart as the Engineering majors - in fact, it won't make any difference at all. Why would it?

bagoh20 said...

The problem is of course in the education field where an outstanding grad gets the same grades as a mediocre one - they both get 4.0s. So you can't pick out the best teachers, and with tenure, you're stuck with them when you do find out you picked the wrong ones.

Eric said...

The data clearly shows that students in STEM courses at Madison receive markedly lower grades than students in education courses.

When engineers and scientists get real-life problems wrong companies go out of business and/or people die. Education and communications professors just don't have the same level of responsibility as professors of nuclear or civil engineering.

When I was an undergrad all six nuclear engineering seniors flunked a class they needed for graduation. They'd had a bad lecturer the previous year and didn't have a solid background for the current class. The department head owned up to the problem and apologized profusely. But he still wouldn't let them through. "You people will be designing nuclear power plants," he said. "We realize this is a terrible inconvenience, but we can't allow you to graduate until you understand this."

Geoff Matthews said...

A co-worker and I submitted a proposal to a conference examining the average grade distributions within our institution. We had found that the lowest ACT score and the highest GPAs were in the school of Education, and the reverse in the school of Science & Health.

Two of the reviewers liked it, the third objected that it was picking on education. I was not amused.

BTW, the website,,
has an excellent look at grade inflation in general.

beast said...

Reminds me of a couple of my Dad's favorite jokes.(He was a 1966 GT grad in aerospace eng MS 1970 AFIT)1. What does a Bulldog call a Jacket a year after graduation?...BOSS. 2. Called him up when I was a nuke student at Florida and my sister was about to go to GA.asked him "How are you letting her go to Athens?"His answer"do you really think she can pass freshman calculus?" Sent us both ROFL.She was a journalism major.

Peter said...

There's a differential between educaton and STEM because education is run on the Dodo Principle.

As in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, where the Dodo, when asked to determine who had won a foot race, was unable to do so and declared, "ALL have won, and all shall have prizes!"

But Jordan Ellenberg is wrong in saying that grade inflation does not matter.

It matters because when an 'A' becomes a common grade there is no longer any way to determine who is truly exceptional (other than to declare that practically everyone is exceptional).

Also, it makes it difficult to compare old transcripts with newer ones as there's usually no convenient way to adjust old results for inflation.

Perhaps a better argument would be, what are the advantages of grade inflation?