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Universities: Dear students, you deserve bad grades
Universities give better and better grades, although the students don't get any smarter. In doing so, they harm those who have the hardest time in universities anyway.
Dear students, I know you want to have good grades: You want to be among the best and believe that only A's will help you in your studies and career. And you can count yourself lucky, because the grades are getting better and better, even though your knowledge, competencies and skills are not increasing or even decreasing. I can understand that you like the good grades. But I have to tell you: you'd be better off with worse ones.
It has already been proven in the USA that grades get better and better while intelligence remains constant. In Germany, the Science Council found out in 2012 that university graduates get better and better grades - and math tests that universities or universities of applied sciences carry out at the beginning of their studies provide another clue. If you compare these math test results with the Abitur grades of the participants, it becomes clear that although the Abitur grades of the prospective students are getting better, they cannot do any math better than their predecessors. Many even do worse.
Do not criticize the students, but the system
So the students have better grades and can do less - but it would be wrong to criticize you, the students, of all people. Yes, you should be able to master fractions and derive functions in the university. You should have the skills that will give you a high school diploma. But the education system is responsible for providing you with it. And it doesn't.
Inflation arises in a system in which parents fight for grades with pressure on teachers and, if necessary, in court, where parents, pupils and students rate teachers and lecturers and "target agreements" stand for certain average grades in classes in teachers' employment contracts. Because those who give good grades can keep their job, make schoolchildren, parents and students happy and have their peace of mind. And that's a problem.
Good grades are a pleasant way to give school and college students stones instead of bread. It's cheap, but not free. It saves everyone involved in the education system from doing things that are right but painful. And that can be expensive in the long run for three reasons. Especially for you, dear students.
Grades that are too good harm those who are already having the hardest time
First, the many good grades destroy the signal value of the note. When looking through résumés, bosses ask themselves: Has someone with an A really tried hard? And this loss of signal value increases social inequality. Because if everyone has a one, the university or employer uses other selection mechanisms as a guide: When applying for a master's degree, better universities now have a special test instead of a bachelor's grade, such as the GMAT in areas such as economics. The previously completed course is no longer decisive for the selection.
The same applies when master's graduates flock to the job market: Assessment centers are becoming more and more sophisticated because companies no longer trust the selectivity of universities. This devalues the actual degree and benefits the wealthy, because those who have more money also have more time for preparation, additional tests and evidence.
is a professor at the Westphalian Wilhelms University in Münster. He researches and teaches at the Institute for Strategic Management of the Faculty of Business and Economics.
Second, grade inflation destroys the reward function: if everyone gets a good grade, hard work is no longer worth it. Don't you think so? Experiments have confirmed it: Researchers compared courses with a high percentage of 1s with courses in which lower grades were given. In the one-year courses, the workload fell to 50 percent of the level in the more difficult courses. The result: Many students feel under-challenged and know that the ones they are given will not help them after their studies.
Thirdly, grades that are too good influence choices - for bad ones: If students have the choice between courses that hardly get them any further, but are rewarded with better grades and more difficult courses, many prefer to choose the easier courses - at least as long as that is not punished. This leads to the fact that some do their bachelor's degree at universities of applied sciences because they get better grades there. Then they are in a better position when applying for a master’s degree than their competitors who completed their bachelor’s degree at a competitive university with poorer average grades.
So the grades could get worse again
What can be done about it? Firstly, good grades must no longer be a condition for further employment of teachers and lecturers: In many faculties, the better the results of the students, the more money the faculties receive. That needs to change. The universities should instead orientate themselves on the law exams. There is no grade inflation there because the non-university examiners cannot expect any promotion or better payment from the examination result. Accordingly, there are no good grades for free and the grades of the state law examination are considered a very good indicator of the quality of the examinees.
Secondly, it would be conceivable to indicate the distribution of grades on the certificates: If you read that the average grade for a course was 1.0, the attainment of 1.0 is average. If the grade point average was 3.2, a 1.0 is worth more. Rankings would also be conceivable - how good was the applicant in relation to the rest of the year?
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The current inflation of grades is devaluing our schools and universities - and increasing social inequality. If nothing is politically done about it, expensive private tests, assessment centers and engagements outside of studies will become more and more important. These are all factors that put children from socially disadvantaged families at a disadvantage. The opposite of good is good intentions. It is time for the state to take responsibility for educational policy again. So that the grades finally get worse again.
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