Grade inflation keeps the customers happy

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<ul><li><p>Sir Your Editorial Against gradeinflation (Nature 431, 723; 2004) raises animportant question in US higher educationthat affects both the efficacy of ourassessments of student performance andthe credibility of those assessments.</p><p>Back when I was on the other side of the lectern, my impression was that agrade was a statement of relative academicperformance. A C was actually defined inthe academic catalogue as average, alongwith Aexcellent, Babove average,Dbelow average and Ffailure.These days I see that the academiccatalogue defines a C as satisfactoryand a D as a minimum passing grade.This change reflects the lamentable factthat grades no longer hold any realcontextual meaning.</p><p>I believe that change is long overdue. Ifprofessors are too nervous about appeasingstudents and parents to stick to thedefinition of C as average, then studentgrades should be reported, as they were atmy undergraduate institution, along withthe average for the class. So instead ofreceiving a naked B, a student mightreceive a B, 3.4/3.62 indicating thatthis student was actually 0.22 grade unitsbelow the class average of 3.62, despitereceiving a grade higher than a C.</p><p>This approach would work well foruniversities internal use, but what aboutexternal evaluation? Perhaps US collegesand universities could be ranked usingsome system analogous to the impactfactor of journals, a ranking that might be derived from the performance of its</p><p>correspondence</p><p>NATURE | VOL 432 | 2 DECEMBER 2004 | www.nature.com/nature 549</p><p>students on standardized national exams.To avoid potential difficulties, such </p><p>as ranking a department with a superbrecord within a mediocre university, itwould seem sensible to perform thisranking on a departmental as opposed to a university-wide basis.</p><p>In this way, a student could be more or less objectively evaluated by a graduateschool or prospective employer as having a 3.44/3.12 grade-point average from a1.76-ranked US university chemistrydepartment. Wouldnt that be a morescientific approach to measuring studentperformance in the academic crucible?Craig D. ThulinDepartment of Chemistry and Biochemistry,Benson Building, Room C-100,Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah 84602, USA</p><p>Grade inflation: studentsseek it, funders reward itSir Your Editorial (Nature 431, 723;2004) identifies a serious problem, butmodifying the use of student evaluations is only a partial solution. Students activelyshop for courses with grade inflation.</p><p>If money is allocated to departments on the basis of the number of studentsenrolling on a course, as it is at myuniversity, then grade inflation is rewardedwith additional funding.</p><p>We need to make courses compete oncontent rather than grading. One way tolevel the playing field would be to includestudents percentile ranks in each class (forinstance, 90% if only 10% of students inthe class had higher scores) in theirtranscripts, along with traditional grades.How this might affect competition amonguniversities is an interesting question.R. Ford DenisonAgronomy and Range Science, University ofCalifornia, 1 Shields Avenue, Davis,California 95616, USA</p><p>Grade inflation keeps thecustomers happySir As your Editorial notes (Nature 431,723; 2004), grade inflation is indeed real inthe United States, and not only at privateinstitutions. The evidence isnt anecdotal:the data (see www.gradeinflation.com)show that grade inflation is omnipresent atcommunity colleges and at both public andprivate four-year schools.</p><p>Your solutions to this problem could be easily implemented. However, gettingthings turned around would requireuniversity leaders willing to buck the keep the customer happy ethos on UScampuses. Unfortunately, such leaders arefew and far between. Grade inflation is asymptom of an overarching problem inhigher education: a failure of universityleadership to have the courage to preservethe integrity of US higher education.Stuart RojstaczerDuke University, Box 19302, Stanford,California 94309, USA</p><p>Journals must cooperateto defend biosecuritySir In publishing the Letter to Nature byD. Kobasa and colleagues, Enhancedvirulence of influenza A viruses with thehaemagglutinin of the 1918 pandemicvirus (Nature 431, 703707; 2004), Naturehas endorsed a publication that reports the creation of an influenza strain withincreased virulence (at least in mice) basedon the molecular structures of one of thedeadliest diseases of the twentieth century.This will surely bring both benefits andrisks to biosecurity.</p><p>Following a discussion of the problemsarising from the publication of biosecurity-sensitive data, scientific journal editorscame together and agreed that this issuedeserves attention and that some generalmeasures should be in place (see Nature421, 771; 2003). Since then, most leadingjournals, including Nature, have introducedprocedures to deal with this issue.</p><p>However, there are good reasons to believe that these individual journal-specific procedures are inadequate, in thatthey give the least restrictive journal theultimate control over sensitive biosecurityinformation. Looking at the tremendousimpact the outcome of the editors decision may have on the public, informeddemocratic participation in the decision-making process must be a requirement.At present, none of these journals releaseinformation on the riskbenefit analysisundertaken in specific cases to allowindependent assessments.</p><p>As long as clear guidance fromlegislators is missing, the policies followedby these scientific journals will remainnon-transparent, possibly inconsistent and subject to political bias. Lets hope that the initiatives being pursued by severalcountries, including the United States(www.aaas.org/spp/post911/agents),to negotiate biosecurity guidelines forscientists, will lead to workable andpublicly accepted principles regarding all aspects of research, including thepublication of research results.</p><p>A necessary first step towardstransparency could be the publication of the local biosafety committees reasonsfor giving approval, the biosafety measurestaken and the editors riskbenefitassessments.Johannes Rath*, Bernhard Jank*,Otto Doblhoff-Dier*Department of Theoretical Biology andDevelopmental Biology, Althanstrasse 14,1090 Vienna, AustriaInstitute for Applied Microbiology,University for Agricultural Sciences,Muthgasse 18, A-1190 Vienna, Austria</p><p>Tackling grade inflation in US universitiesSolutions could include reporting the class average and ranking departments by results.</p><p>2.12 corres 549 MH 30/11/04 10:05 am Page 549</p><p> 2004 Nature Publishing Group</p></li></ul>