Report: Grade Inflation Persists

As and A-minuses comprise half of grades awarded in ’05-’06

Over half of the grades awarded to undergraduates last academic year were As or A-minuses, according to data released by Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71.

The percentage of “A” grades awarded in 2005-2006 did not increase significantly from the previous year, when 48.8 percent of grades were As or A-minuses.

But the percentage of A-range grades has risen considerably over the past two decades: only a third of grades were As or A-minuses in the 1985-1986 academic year.

The mean of all grades awarded—which is not the same as the mean of all student grade point averages—for the 2005-2006 academic year was 3.45, and the median was 3.67.

The median grade point value has remained constant and the mean has increased slightly from 3.42 since 2002-2003.

Gross wrote in a cover letter to Faculty that the slight rise in the mean grade in undergraduate courses indicates “that grade compression continues to be a concern.”

Gross used the same wording in his January 2006 cover letter to Faculty on the same issue, writing that both the rise in the mean grade and grade compression are are concerns “best addressed through ongoing discussion at the departmental level.”

The grade data provided by Gross does not provide a grade breakdown by department.

The relatively recent change to calculating grade point averages on a 4.0 scale has “reaffirmed the value of B range grades,” according to Gross’ most recent letter. The College went from a 15-point grading scale to its current 4.0 scale following a 2002 Faculty vote after a media flurry targeting Harvard’s grade inflation.

Harvard came under fire for its grade inflation after a 2001 Boston Globe article reported that 91 percent of graduating students received honors. The Faculty voted to cap the overall number of honors given at 60 percent at the same time that they changed the GPA to a four-point scale.

“We hope this will make the full range of grades more available, and ease the pressure on the top end of the grading scale that many faculty members report,” Gross wrote in the letter.

In March, Gross downplayed attention given to grade inflation at Harvard.

“I haven’t pressed too hard on this issue since I’ve been dean,” Gross told parents during the question-and-answer portion of his speech at Junior Parents’ Weekend.

“One reason was that I felt it was more important that the Faculty concentrate more on what we were teaching, what the curriculum was for the students, what we were trying to have them learn, than how we were evaluating them,” he said.

Interim Dean of the Faculty David R. Pilbeam wrote in an e-mail yesterday that he had not yet seen Gross’s report.

Professor Harry R. Lewis ’68 wrote in an e-mail that he has “no fresh observations to offer” on the issue, after devoting a chapter to it in his book, “Excellence Without a Soul.”

Other Ivies have also felt the effects of grade inflation. In the spring of 2004, Princeton voted to cap their A-range grades at 35 percent.

—Staff writer Brittney L. Moraski can be reached at bmoraski@fas.harvard.edu.