Friday, May 01, 2015

something is rotten

A Korea Times article talks about rampant grade inflation in Korean universities. My own university, Dongguk, is named as one of the worst offenders:

SNU [i.e., Seoul National University, Korea's top uni] showed the most inflated grades with almost 83 percent of its students receiving at least a grade B, followed by Kyunghee students at 81.4 percent; University of Seoul students with 79.2 percent; and Dongguk students at 77.6 percent.

Elsewhere, the article says:

In the study conducted by the Ministry of Education and Korea Council for University Education (KCUE), 178 universities were analyzed on course evaluation results, tuition, student and professor satisfaction, and student-to-instructor ratio per class.

In addition to graduates, the “grade inflation” problem equally applied to junior students.

Almost 70 percent of university students received a grade B or better this year, the study showed.

Those who received grade A or A plus accounted for 32.3 percent, and 37.5 percent had Bs.

What's interesting, here, is that, according to the above, about 30% of students are in the "A" range while about 40% of students are in the "B" range. That conforms perfectly to the grading curve that I complained about in my recent post on "chalk and talk." As I said in that post, our campus-wide mandated grading curve is: up to 30% of students may receive "A"s; up to 70% of students may receive a combination of "A"s and "B"s (so assuming maximum "A"s, that's a 30/40 split).

Where things get strange is in the article's accusation that Dongguk's actual grade distribution has about 78% of the student population receiving a combination of "A"s and "B"s. This can only mean one thing: someone, somewhere, is breaking the curve. It shouldn't be possible for "A+B" to exceed 70%. The immediate implication is that it's possible to break the curve, which further implies that the system is being gamed. That's not a surprising conclusion, given Korean culture's ambivalent (some might say scornful) relationship with the rule of law. But it's also a mystery begging to be solved: how are the system-hackers doing it? If we're all supposed to adhere to a curve, then how in the hell is it being broken?

I can say this: in my previous post, I complained about the curve, which I said worsened student-teacher relationships. This article, which could probably have been researched more thoroughly, is evidence that, even with the curve, grade inflation still happens.

So let's just drop the curve, shall we?



Charles said...

Woohoo! Go SNU! #1 yet again!

(For what it's worth, we have a similar curve system--actually, I think it's identical--but certain classes are exempt from that. Perhaps that's what's throwing off the numbers?)

Kevin Kim said...

Some of our classes are exempt from curving as well, so yeah, that could be throwing off the stats. Still, most of our courses are supposed to follow the curve; the classes that aren't curved ("absolute grading," as Dongguk calls it, and maybe other unis as well) are the exceptions—marginal at best. Can the weight of all those exceptions really throw Dongguk off by nearly 10% (i.e., we're supposed to have no more than 70% "A+B," but according to the article, we have 78% "A+B")?