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SU faculty detail stances on grading reliability

Kiran Ramsey | Digital Design Editor

This grading leniency is calculated in different ways across universities. However, many institutions, such as Syracuse University, do not have a specific way to collect such data.

Though easy grading might boost a student’s confidence and GPA, a recent study concludes that grading leniency does more harm than good.

The research paper, “The Relationship Between Grading Leniency and Grading Reliability” by Ido Millet, a professor of business at Pennsylvania State University, suggests that as grading leniency goes up, grading reliability — the correlation between a student’s grade point average and the grade the student earned in a class — goes down.

“Although grading leniency may be a symptom rather than a cause of low-grading reliability, reducing grading leniency may lead to improved grading reliability,” Millet wrote in his paper.

This grading leniency is calculated in different ways across universities. However, many institutions, such as Syracuse University, do not have a specific way to collect such data.

“There is no institutionalized way of addressing (grading reliability), but a few among us individually have been addressing it,” said Jaklin Kornfilt, director of linguistic studies at SU.

The information cited in the paper is based on data from more than 50,000 filtered classes taught at one unidentified university in North America over several years, according to a Times Higher Education article.

The purpose of the paper was to investigate the relationship between grading reliability and grading leniency by associating the difference in the students’ average GPA — often an indicator of general performance in the classroom — and the average grade received in a specific class, per the article.

This is what Millet called the “grade lift metric”: If the students’ GPA was 3.5, but the average grade in the class was a B, the lift would be -0.5, indicating tough grading, according to the article. Some of the data showed classes of straight A students receiving B-minuses in a course, or even C-plus students receiving grades above an A-minus.

David Miller, professor in the School of Human Development and Organizational Studies in Education at the University of Florida, said much of the evaluation for grading reliability of professors at UF is attained through syllabi and curriculum, standards similar to most institutions.

“There’s reporting requirements for the kinds of assessments that are used to look at programs in particular and they have to make sure (professors) are using reasonable scoring and grading procedures,” Miller said.

He added that syllabi must explicitly outline grading criteria and expectations, so the students understand how they will be academically evaluated. Despite these manners of evaluation, some professors are simply more lenient.

“How is one to know which faculty member gave more reliable grades than somebody else?” Kornfilt said. “One would need to know more than just the grades. If I were to try and judge how reliable a particular faculty member’s grades are, I would look at their history of grading different classes over different years and I would become suspicious if entire classes were getting (good grades).”

Millet, the author of the paper, wrote that he believes universities should be stricter about the strategies they employ to test grading leniency, although there are recognized reasons why institutions have been weak on grading reliability, according to the article.

In his paper, Millet wrote that maintaining standards for grading leniency at a university-level is difficult. This grading leniency, leading to low grading reliability, can encourage students to take courses in which they think they will a higher grade.

“Academia needs to move to reduce that variability because it causes dysfunctional decisions by students,” he said in an interview with Times Higher Education. “Students might be biased to pick majors, minors and electives where higher grades are easier to achieve.”

Grades are an important aspect of evaluation, and low grading reliability affects institutions and students’ lives, as they make academic and career decisions, Millet wrote in his paper.

Kornfilt said she believes that at SU, students should be held to a certain standard not only for academic integrity, but also for their own good.

“One of our duties as professors towards our students is to make them view themselves in a realistic way,” Kornfilt said. “So to give them a good grade that they don’t deserve is not actually treating them well in my opinion.”

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