Having been a nearly straight-A student in both high school and university (math was always my downfall), I had quite a shock when I took my first Portuguese language class at the University of Algarve and came away with a final grade of 14 out of 20. To me, that looked like flunking. Well, it looked like a C — a completely average grade of 70% — which for an A student is pretty much the same thing as flunking.
I dragged myself home and, when asked by my wife how I’d done, shamefully admitted that I’d only managed a 14.
“You did? Congratulations!” she said with a big grin. “That’s good!”
It was? What the hell was she talking about?
Seeing this confusion, my wife showed me the final grades she was just handing out to her own students (she also teaches at the university level). I scanned the list and saw a bunch with 11 or 12, a few at 8 or 10, and just a handful that were 14 or higher. None had more than 18.
This was when I learned that the grading system in Portuguese universities is a lot different than what I grew up with. A grade of 20 is as rare as…well, as rare as a perfect grade should be. The idea of being a straight-A student, of always getting the top grade possible, doesn’t really work here. When I later earned a 17, I was quite happy about it. In American grade terms it was only a B, but it meant a lot.
Which is why this chart caught my eye.
From the accompanying NYT article:
Most recently, about 43 percent of all letter grades given were A’s, an increase of 28 percentage points since 1960 and 12 percentage points since 1988. The distribution of B’s has stayed relatively constant; the growing share of A’s instead comes at the expense of a shrinking share of C’s, D’s and F’s.
…[The authors] attribute the rapid rise in grade inflation in the last couple of decades to a more “consumer-based approach” to education, which they say “has created both external and internal incentives for the faculty to grade more generously.” More generous grading can produce better instructor reviews, for example, and can help students be more competitive candidates for graduate schools and the job market.
It’s worth reading the whole article, which is not long. Among other things, it notes that the study authors expect this inflationary trend to get worse, not better.
(Via the Dish.)