SFU defeats mark inflation

May 15, 2003, vol. 27, no. 2
By Howard Fluxgold

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Mark inflation may be a problem at some Canadian universities, but SFU seems to have wrestled it into submission.

A recent National Post survey of 25 universities including SFU found that only 14 of 81 faculties handed out lower grades than they did five or 10 years ago. It also found that the average grade in most faculties is a B.

Many universities don't gather and analyse data on what kind of marks are being awarded in their faculties. But at SFU the department of analytical studies regularly produces a report that analyses the awarding of marks.

For the 10-year period from 1992-93 to 2001-02 the average course grade university-wide has barely increased. In lower level courses it was 2.65 in 1992-93 while in 2001-02 it was 2.70, about a B-. In upper level courses it was 2.97 in 1992-93 and 3.01 in 2001-02.

Roger Blackman (above), associate dean of arts, says he can't figure out why other universities may have a problem with mark inflation while SFU has avoided it. “I know that the faculty members try hard to maintain stability and consistency in grading,” he explains. “It's important to maintain stability so that we can make fair comparisons over time, so what we've achieved is quite valuable.”

Especially, as he pointed out, that marking is ultimately arbitrary. “Giving an A- or B+ is a very subjective decision. The faculty believe it is necessary to maintain a stable grading system. However, I have no good explanation as to why other institutions have experienced grade inflation when we have not.”

While marks may not be going up, not all departments are necessarily on exactly the same page when it comes to handing out marks.

For example, the average mark in all lower level courses in the faculty of arts was 2.76 in 2001-02, while the average mark in lower level economics courses was 2.40 and lower level philosophy courses was 2.44 in the same year.

The range for upper level courses in both subjects follows the same pattern.

“It does make it difficult for students in these programs to win some of the top awards,” notes Blackman.

The department of analytical studies report on marks can be found at Reports.

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