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Grading Trends Get Attention

University Business, October 2012

An infographic by analyzes today’s students’ study habits, as well as grade inflation, to suggest that college grading may be getting easier. Whatever the case, grading methods have certainly changed over the years.

James Wollack, director of University of Wisconsin-Madison testing and evaluation services and an expert in educational measurement, says grading used to be dominated by test scores: fail a final and you’d flunk the course.

“Now exams are certainly a component, but there are other aspects as well, other types of assessments, and it may be that that sort of comprehensive framework better allows students to demonstrate what it is they know,” he says. “It could simply be pressures to keep people in classes depending on the program. There’s a whole gamut of possibilities.”

The infographic points out that students spend 50 percent less time studying today than they did in the 1960s, that 73 percent of grades awarded at public colleges and 86 percent at private colleges are now As and Bs, and that students who studied less than five hours per week still manage a collective GPA of 3.16.
One example of unconventional grading comes out of

Florida State University, where Todd Bacile, marketing professor, introduced The Klout Challenge, a classroom project created for his undergraduate electronic marketing course. The challenge utilizes the web service Klout, which assigns a number between one and 100 to determine a person or organization’s social media influence. Bacile’s approach has gained mixed reviews from the media and the higher ed community.

Wollack says it’s not unreasonable to assess students on their ability to use tools common in their chosen field. “All of us, no matter what our field is, need to be able to use the tools available to us intelligently and to our advantage, and if we can do that, that makes us more marketable and better employees and better at our jobs.”

The bridging of grading and new technology has recently raised concern at Harvard as well, where officials are investigating allegations that more than 100 students may have shared answers for a take-home exam last semester.