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Grade Information and Grade Inflation: The Cornell Experiment

Author

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  • Talia Bar
  • Vrinda Kadiyali
  • Asaf Zussman

Abstract

Grade inflation and high grade levels have been subjects of concern and public debate in recent decades. In the mid-1990s, Cornell University's Faculty Senate had a number of discussions about grade inflation and what might be done about it. In April 1996, the Faculty Senate voted to adopt a new grade reporting policy which had two parts: 1) the publication of course median grades on the Internet; and 2) the reporting of course median grades in students' transcripts. The policy change followed the determination of a university committee that "it is desirable for Cornell University to provide more information to the reader of a transcript and produce more meaningful letter grades." It was hoped that "More accurate recognition of performance may encourage students to take courses in which the median grade is relatively low." The median grade policy has remained to date only partially implemented: median grades have been reported online since 1998 but do not yet appear in transcripts. We evaluate the effect of the implemented policy on patterns of course choice and grade inflation. Specifically, we test two related hypotheses: First, all else being equal, the availability of online grade information will lead to increased enrollment into leniently graded courses. Second, high-ability students will be less attracted to the leniently graded courses than their peers. Building on these results we perform an exercise that identifies the extent to which the change in student behavior resulted in an increase in the university-wide mean grade.

Suggested Citation

  • Talia Bar & Vrinda Kadiyali & Asaf Zussman, 2009. "Grade Information and Grade Inflation: The Cornell Experiment," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 23(3), pages 93-108, Summer.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:23:y:2009:i:3:p:93-108
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.23.3.93
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    File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.23.3.93
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Talia Bar & Vrinda Kadiyali & Asaf Zussman, 2012. "Putting Grades in Context," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 30(2), pages 445-478.
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    Cited by:

    1. Bar, Talia & Zheng, Yuqing, 2015. "Strategic Selection of Certifiers: Evidence from the BRC Food Safety Standard," 2015 AAEA & WAEA Joint Annual Meeting, July 26-28, San Francisco, California 205570, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association;Western Agricultural Economics Association.
    2. Hatsor, Limor, 2015. "Higher education funding: The value of information," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 137(C), pages 230-233.
    3. Pearce, John A., 2017. "How employers can stanch the hemorrhaging of collegiate GPA credibility," Business Horizons, Elsevier, vol. 60(1), pages 35-43.
    4. Talia Bar & Vrinda Kadiyali & Asaf Zussman, 2014. "Online Posting of Teaching Evaluations and Grade Inflation," Working papers 2014-29, University of Connecticut, Department of Economics.
    5. Rebecca Summary & William Weber, 2012. "Grade inflation or productivity growth? An analysis of changing grade distributions at a regional university," Journal of Productivity Analysis, Springer, vol. 38(1), pages 95-107, August.
    6. repec:got:cegedp:143 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Zheng, Yuqing & Bar, Talia, 2017. "Audit Grades in Food Safety Certification," 2017 Annual Meeting, February 4-7, 2017, Mobile, Alabama 252714, Southern Agricultural Economics Association.
    8. Ehlers, Tim & Schwager, Robert, 2012. "Honest grading, grade inflation and reputation," Center for European, Governance and Economic Development Research Discussion Papers 143, University of Goettingen, Department of Economics.
    9. Ost, Ben, 2010. "The role of peers and grades in determining major persistence in the sciences," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 29(6), pages 923-934, December.
    10. Danilowicz-Gösele, Kamila, 2016. ""A" is the aim?," Center for European, Governance and Economic Development Research Discussion Papers 291, University of Goettingen, Department of Economics.
    11. Hernández-Julián, Rey & Looney, Adam, 2016. "Measuring inflation in grades: An application of price indexing to undergraduate grades," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 55(C), pages 220-232.
    12. Talia Bar & Vrinda Kadiyali & Asaf Zussman, 2012. "Putting Grades in Context," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 30(2), pages 445-478.
    13. Ehrenberg, Ronald G., 2010. "Analyzing the factors that influence persistence rates in STEM field, majors: Introduction to the symposium," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 29(6), pages 888-891, December.
    14. Talia Bar & Yuqing Zheng, 2016. "Leniency and Loyalty in the Choice of Certifiers: Evidence from the BRC Food Safety Standard," Working papers 2016-22, University of Connecticut, Department of Economics.
    15. Ehlers, Tim & Schwager, Robert, 2012. "Honest Grading, Grade Inflation and Reputation," Annual Conference 2012 (Goettingen): New Approaches and Challenges for the Labor Market of the 21st Century 62051, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    16. Shao-Hsun Keng, 2016. "The Effect of a Stricter Academic Dismissal Policy on Course Selection, Student Effort, and Grading Leniency," Education Finance and Policy, MIT Press, vol. 11(2), pages 203-224, Spring.
    17. Rebecca Diamond & Petra Persson, 2016. "The Long-term Consequences of Teacher Discretion in Grading of High-stakes Tests," NBER Working Papers 22207, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    18. Talia Bar & Asaf Zussman, 2012. "Partisan Grading," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 4(1), pages 30-48, January.

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    JEL classification:

    • I23 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Higher Education; Research Institutions

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