Friday, September 25, 2009

The Gap is Everywhere!

Of late, I have been writing about problems that differential grading causes, both in terms of employers and graduate schools picking the “wrong” students, and in terms of dissuading students from studying certain subjects.

I must admit that my arguments and analysis of different grading schemes in different disciplines was based on one crucial assumption:

The intellectual quality of science students is no worse than that of
students in the humanities, arts, or social sciences.

I readily admit that, if science students tend to be less intelligent than humanities students, then they deserve poorer outcomes. However, there seems to be little evidence to this effect so I shall not belabor this point.

More importantly, I have recently run across several studies, which support the idea of grade normalization across subjects

In a landmark study done by Durham University in the UK, which tracked over a million students taking A-levels and GSCE exams, researchers found that students of equal ability received approximately a full letter grade lower in the sciences than in subjects like drama and English. The study was commissioned by the Royal Society (the world’s oldest professional body for the sciences, whose membership includes the likes of Newton and Hawking) in order to provide evidence that differential grading schemes may be contributing to a decrease in the number of students pursuing science degrees in the UK.

While my analysis in my last post was solely regarding grades at Dartmouth, it appears that the same differential grading practices take place all across the US as well. An online magazine article describes studies done at Cornell, comments by a Stanford Business School professor, and several other pieces of evidence which all point to the idea that lower grades in sciences can dissuade students from pursuing science degrees.

It is also evident that these grading differences between the sciences and humanities have been there for many decades. The question thus arises, why did they arise and why has no one corrected them, despite the easily available evidence as to their existence?

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