August 19, 2009

Grade inflation

Comment to Samizdata 18 August 2009

I want to make a distinction for a moment between the value of education andthe value of grades. The value of the former is absolute. The personal value of being exposed to information and ideas can't be diminished by other people being exposed to them. Quite the opposite in fact; conversations between 'educated people' in the informal sense of the word are synergistic. When a group of people is talking from a higher shared base of knowledge and understanding there is a net gain for everyone in the group. Compare the quality of debate on Samidata with that in your local pub if you doubt this. However as many people have pointed out, education has nothing to do with grades.

The only purpose of a grading system is to enable third parties such as Universities and employers to make comparisons between student A and student B. A grade has no value in and of itself but only relative to and in comparison with other grades. In this it is just like money.

This should be a statement of the bleeding obvious, but given the education system's determination to print A grades the way the bank of Zimbabwe prints bank notes, it seems that is isn't.

The media obsesses about grade inflation every year but as usual it asks entirely the wrong questions. Are the A Levels easier than they were ten or fifteen years ago?
While the answer is obviously yes its also a pretty pointless question.

Generally speaking graduates at whatever level compete for jobs and university places with others of the same age cohort as themselves. Therefore the question we want to ask is not. "Is an A grade in 2008 the same as an A grade in 1988?" This is no more important than obsessing about what a pound today is worth today compared to twenty years ago. As long as it remains useful measure of value, whether the currency system has base units of 1 100 or 1000 is of little importance.

The real purpose of grade inflation in my view is that it serves as a political tool to obscure the vast differences in quality between a state education and a private one.

The grading system now in place serves to obscure information rather than reveal it.

If they set the grade ceiling is low enough that anyone reasonably bright and industrious can hit the highest grades they can mask the gulf.

It also means that they can determine who fills the places in the higher education system in accordance with their social engineering project and their egalitarian ideology rather than by academic merit. After all if every applicant to Oxbridge has maxed out grades they can use any criteria we want to distinguish between them .

Damn, I hate these people.

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