From the hallowed halls…but probably not limited to them these days. Perhaps related to the perceived importance of not upsetting the confidence of gifted students? Grade plunge protection? Grist for the academics:

"A little bird has told me that the most frequently given grade at Harvard College right now is an A-," Mansfield said during the meeting's question period. "If this is true or nearly true, it represents a failure on the part of this faculty and its leadership to maintain our academic standards."

Harris then stood and looked towards FAS Dean Michael D. Smith in hesitation.

"I can answer the question, if you want me to." Harris said. "The median grade in Harvard College is indeed an A-. The most frequently awarded grade in Harvard College is actually a straight A."


Richard Owen writes: 

This is an interesting phenomenon. In the UK, the current coalition have started to engineer grade deflation for pre-uni qualification. It seems somewhat unfair to those at the inflexion point. Perhaps instead grades should be given on a continuously rising index number, so just like money, it debases but still acts as a reasonable measure.

I do not know the reality, but given that at universities like Oxford (certainly pre-WW1) it was standard practice to arrange a place for your son or daughter and that a typist could be hired to write your final papers, the idea that standards have always been nosebleedingly high doesn't seem right. Indeed, the intake quality is probably as high as ever, given the internationalisation of educational institutions. 

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

 As Richard knows, in the 19th century even faculty positions were allocated by social rank. His idea about an index is a marvelous suggestion; perhaps there could be a "mixed" educational economy in which people were allowed to buy grades or at least grade insurance and the underprivileged could get "extra" grades.

What is certain is that the schools will not allow anyone to set standard examinations. It would sabotage compulsory education (which now includes college attendance for anyone wanting a civil service or corporate job) if there were uniform measures of skills for which anyone could take tests and get scores.

James Bower writes: 

In graduate school there was a strict 3.25 curve for all courses. It was skewed (approx 30%, 50%, 15%, 5% other), but still there were only so many A's available. You would think teachers would/should create enough difficulty to create a wider distribution of outcomes.

Victor Niederhoffer writes: 

It is interesting to note that the last thing Artie did, the day before he died was to grade all the exams of his class, and give them all A's. Usually he only gave 85% of his class A's. What's so terrible about giving an A? The kid took the class, or played the piano or great music. It's beautiful. 


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