By Jessica Rafuse
Getting good grades in university is said to be easier now than ever, but finding out if Ryerson is guilty of grade inflation isn’t clear-cut.
Ryerson doesn’t publish grade statistics, due to privacy protection issues. But the university also doesn’t interpret data internally to track grade inflation.
“It’s a tricky thing to track with the use of data,” Ryerson’s general counsel Julia Hanigsberg said. She is currently collecting grade data as part of the freedom of information request.
The issue of grade inflation has attracted considerable media attention in recent years, especially in the United States, where even Ivy League schools are accused of granting the so-called Gentleman’s A- for substandard work. In 2000, a Canadian study of seven Ontario universities concluded that significantly more students, in fact, were receiving higher grades than 20 years earlier.
Measuring possible grade inflation at Ryerson, Haningsberg said, is difficult because there isn’t one single indicator that can be used to trace it. What pieces of information accurately demonstrate a grade inflation trend would need to be determined by consensus.
“Grading is always a source of tension anywhere,” Keith Alnwick, Ryerson’s registrar, said. “Students want as good of grades as they can get and faculty wants to evaluate performance in an equitable and meaningful manner. We want to be fair, but also don’t want to be lax.”
Ron Stagg, chair of Ryerson’s history department, observes, “overall, marks are tending to creep up,” and that the issue of inflated grades in university is an extension of a problem that starts in high school.
“Students come with great expectations these days,” Stagg said. “If they do work, they think they deserve a good mark no matter what.”
Stagg added that while not everyone is marking easier, what constitutes a B paper can vary considerably and that, “the issue of grades needs to be addressed.”
“What’s clear is that grading varies from course to course,” Alnwick said. “There isn’t uniformity that exists across the university.”
For Merit Abadir, a second-year criminal justice student at Ryerson, it’s the lack of uniformity and consistency that’s troublesome. “Marks vary from prof to prof,” Abadir said. “Profs are sometimes lazy and give out really good marks. Some students are getting good marks for nothing.”
First-year civil engineering student Thomas Tiveran also experiences something similar.
“In one class marks are ridiculously easy, the other’s ridiculously hard,” he said of two sections of a core course. In the two classes, the students write the same final exam that is written by both professors, which helps to equalize grades between the sections. But this makes Tiveran wonder, “if they’re balancing at the end, why couldn’t they teach at the same level?”
The negative consequences of grade inflation for both students and faculty range from fostering a false sense of security and unclear expectations of performance to public dissatisfaction of education and hiring and tenure difficulties.
When looking for long-term indicators of whether grade inflation is a problem at Ryerson, Alnwick says the “proof is in the pudding.
“Graduates have represented us well and lots of people want to come here,” he said.
Students are also doing just as well in their graduate studies, said Kathy Faye, assistant registrar for Ryerson’s school of graduate studies.
“There’s no way at this point we can evaluate any trend with inflation of undergraduate grades,” Faye said. Ryerson has outlined a basic performance designation on a grade scale, but the responsibility for maintaining the quality of grades resides within faculty chairs.