Grading on the Upgrade

Where are the C's of Yesteryear?
March 31, 2003

Stuart Rojstaczer, an associate professor at the Nicholas School, now a visiting scholar at Stanford University, writes in a January 2003 Washington Post op-ed, "The C, once commonly accepted, is now the equivalent of the mark of Cain on a college transcript."

Where are the C's of Yesteryear?

In "Where All Grades Are Above Average," Rojstaczer takes on grade inflation, with new and surprising figures from Duke and other schools. "At Duke, which all evidence indicates is not a 'leader' in grade inflation--by a long shot--C's now make up less than 10 percent of all grades," he writes.

" At Pomona College, C's are now less than 4 percent of all grades. About half of all grades at Pomona, Duke, Harvard, and Columbia are in the A range. State schools are not immune to this change. At the University of Illinois, A's constitute more than 40 percent of all grades and outnumber C's by almost three to one."

University leaders, he says, have provided some "ridiculous reasons" for these stellar report cards, including smarter, better-prepared students and more effective teachers. These excuses do not, however, take into account students who lack "a strong internal desire to learn," those "without the external motivator of grades."

As a result, Rojstaczer says, his job has become more difficult: "I have to cajole, to gently persuade. And in all honesty, I don't think I have the psychological skills necessary in this climate to approach my goal of educating all my students well."

In the end, he blames grade inflation for "high absenteeism and a low level of student participation. In the absence of fair grading, our success in providing this country with a truly educated public is diminished."