Free Content What Are Grades Made Of?

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Abstract:

The term “grade inflation” covers a multitude of phenomena, some of which are even alleged to be sins. Continuing increases in average grades have been widely documented in many universities over the last several decades. Also widely documented, and often associated with grade inflation, are systematic differences in grade levels by field of study, with a common belief that the sciences and math grade harder than the social sciences, which in turn grade harder than the humanities—and that economics behaves more like the natural sciences than like the social sciences. The general persistence of these relative differences in grades seem to us to be more interesting and more difficult to explain than the persistence of modest grade inflation in general, and they are the principal focus of this paper. Why, for example, should average grades in English be much higher than average grades in chemistry? And what is going on when relative grades change, when a department?s grading practices change markedly relative to other departments? We explore such questions using detailed data on grades at the University of Michigan from Fall 1992 through Winter 2008.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1257/089533009789176799

Publication date: June 1, 2009

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  • The Journal of Economic Perspectives (JEP) attempts to fill a gap between the general interest press and most other academic economics journals. The journal aims to publish articles that will serve several goals: to synthesize and integrate lessons learned from active lines of economic research; to provide economic analysis of public policy issues; to encourage cross-fertilization of ideas among the fields of thinking; to offer readers an accessible source for state-of-the-art economic thinking; to suggest directions for future research; to provide insights and readings for classroom use; and to address issues relating to the economics profession.
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