Sunday, 7 March 2010

The economics of grade inflation

Slí Eile: An interesting feature of the debate on 'grade inflation' (Leaving Certificate and Higher Education) in recent days is the way in which the story has moved so quickly centre stage following expressions of unease by some industrialists in recent months. Although some had raised concerns - it took comments by a number of key business people to propel the issue to where it is now. Action was take quickly to research the issue. Resolving it will be less easy. First, is grade inflation a fact? A trend towards higher marks does not, of itself, prove the case. A rigorous comparison of scripts and marking schemes would be required. however, there is enough impressionistic evidence to suggest that inflation of grades has been taking place. The fact that economic interests are dictating the agenda should be of concern. All education is to equip learners with the means to grow as humans and as members of society. Development of skills to take play a productive role in the economy is vital but does not constitute the main or sole purpose of education. Ultimately, education is a means for people to relate to others - in caring for others especially the younger and older generations and to behave responsibly towards the coming 7 generations. Its not easy to put a mark on that.


Proposition Joe said...

Its not easy to put a mark on that.

There's no need to put marks on those happy side effects of a good education. That's not what the examination is or should be measuring.

Examinations provide a metric of specific competencies, not a prediction of whether you'll be nice to your granny.

The problem is that the main competency measured by the leaving cert (the ability to learn-by-rote and then regurgitate accurately within a set time) is close to value-less in the modern world.

Pauline said...

I must admit I always wondered whether I was stupider than my nieces and nephews. Asking my Cousin, a Maths professor, he says the Leaving Higher Maths papers are very much not the same standard the ones we got.

But to be honest though, our attitude to study and what we wanted in life was a lot slacker. Exams were a means to an end. So we didn't put so much effort in.

In fact we put a lot more effort in getting more bang for our buck figuring out less study with more marks. Which strangely is how uni and the workplace operate.

And that brings another issue, we were taught critical thinking, mostly through exposure to an anarchic system of life and education. So when we went to jobs, we just did what we always did worked it out ourselves.

I was surprised how much young people bought into the whole tiger thing and whatever the government said. Their ability to mimic the answers rather than give an opinion. Their absolute horror when it was suggested things could be any different. That inability to question authority and work independently can be death in a workplace and a university.

We're obviously educating them but perhaps not giving them enough to conflict against, to question, to think for themselves?

Intelligence neither gets more or less in generations, it's just how we're trained to use it.

Joseph said...

I can't say that I have noticed any 'grade inflation' going on in my MA! I am working like a dog and now worried that examiners in May are going to be marking down after this because they don't want the hassle of any insinuation they may be inflating grades. I can only call on them to mark on the value of what is put in front of them and not be influenced by any undue 'pressure'. Please!

Proposition Joe said...


Grade inflation occurs over large timescales across large populations of students. Much of it at third level involves being inappropriately lenient to edge cases. If you're solidly in one grade band, you should have nothing to worry about. Just don't expect the sort of liberal "rounding up" that has occurred up to now.

Slí Eile said...

@Proposition Joe Thanks for your comments. You wrote: 'There's no need to put marks on those happy side effects of a good education. That's not what the examination is or should be measuring.'
I was not referring to any 'happy side effects' but rather those skills, competencies, disposition and attributes that are poorly (not at all) measured in standardised public exams or tests. Such skills are sometimes referred to as 'non-cognitive' abilities. Others associate them - in part - with emotional intelligence.
You wrote, also, 'Examinations provide a metric of specific competencies, not a prediction of whether you'll be nice to your granny.'
for the day that's in it (8 March IWD) I reckon we should be very nice to grannies. After all many of them have raised two generations. Many of us will be grannies and grandads (if not already) and as the saying goes 'you better be nice to your kids - they will get to chose your nursing home). Seriously, the value of skills is that they are in many dimensions - emotional, intellectual, spiritual and physical and the impacts are many and varied from personal to social to economic in the narrow sense that this word is often used.
My point is that not everything is measurable and not everything is marketable.