Monday, March 1, 2010

Grade Inflation

Based on reports we know that Minister for Education, Batt O’Keeffe, is considering the impact of grade inflation in second- and third-level education in Ireland.

It has emerged that the Minister has ordered the State Examination Commission to examine Leaving Cert. results and the Higher Education Authority to report on third-level results.  I’m not sure why he has needed to do this as the data is already available in the Department of Education website!  In particular, findings on the Leaving Cert. are available here and here.

Using the data we will consider the pattern of results in the Leaving Cert. Economics exam.  A graph such as the following is strongly suggestive of grade inflation. Click to enlarge.

LC Econ Grades

The graph gives the percentage of students taking Leaving Cert. Economics who score a Higher Level Grade C or above.  The graph is based on data presented in the following table.  Let’s have a look at some of these numbers.

It shows that from 1990 to 2002 the percentage of students getting a Higher Level Grade C or above rose from 34.3% to 53.9% for males and from 31.0% to 57.2% for females. 57% more males and 85% more females are getting these grades.  This would seem to support the grade inflation hypothesis.

However, an important determinant of the number of students getting a Higher Level Grade C or above is the number of students taking the Higher Level Paper.  The table linked above shows that in Economics this has also been increasing: from 60.5% to 77.5% for males and from 55.1% to 81.0% for females. 

If we just consider the proportion of students taking the Higher Level paper who get a Grade C or above we see that for both genders this rose from about 56% to 70%, from 1992 to 1997 and has been relatively stable since then.  This represents an increase of 25%.

Is 25% more students getting a Grade C or above indicative of grade inflation?  Possibly, but there are lots of reasons that could be driving this increase.

  • Better teachers, teaching and learning facilities
  • Better textbooks and study aids
  • Better students
  • Better exam preparation
  • Grade inflation

If there has been grade inflation it appears to have been applied discriminately against males. See this graph.  Is it possible to  increase the grades of only one gender in an anonymous state exam? I don’t think so either.

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