Princeton began a serious fight against grade inflation a few years ago. The results so far are encouraging.

In 2004-05, the first year under the new policy, A’s (A+, A, A-) accounted for 40.9 percent of grades in undergraduate courses, down from 46.0 percent in 2003-04 and 47.9 in 2002-03. In humanities departments, A’s accounted for 45.5 percent of the grades in undergraduate courses in 2004-05, down from 56.2 percent in 2003-04. In the social sciences, there were 38.4 percent A grades in 2004-05, down from 42.5 percent in the previous year. The natural sciences, at 36.4 percent A’s, essentially held steady. In engineering, the figures were 43.2 percent A’s in 2004-05, 48.0 percent in the previous year.

Basic strategy seems to be to encourage/force individual departments to meet university wide targets. The departments are then left to their own devices as to both how to distribute the limitted number of A’s among introductory and advanced courses and how to encourage/force faculty members to do the right thing.

What does the distribution of grades look like at Williams today? Comments:

1) A lot of grade inflation has occured since the 1980’s. Back in the day, A+’s were virtually unheard of. [By you! — ed.] It now seems that they are almost common. See this 1998 Record article for background.

2) I am still waiting for Peter Siniawer’s thesis, “When A=average : the origins and economic implications of grade inflation at Williams College and other elite institutions”, to be posted on the College library’s website.

3) Williams has acted on grade inflation recently. The Record reported in 2003 that:

The steady rise in student grade point averages (GPA) observed over decade the past appears to have halted since the implementation of a proposal by the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP) in 2000 that encouraged faculty to cap GPAs at set levels for each course level.

At the time the proposal was made, the CEP Subcommittee on Grading reported a significant increase in average grades since 1990 from a 3.19 to a 3.34. This upward trend reflected a trend of grade inflation from the 2.67 average recorded in 1960. Thus, in February 2000 the CEP voted to set a maximum target GPA and disseminate GPA statistics on how each individual department fared in comparison to the targets.

Where can I find the latest statistics?

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