Do Grades from Princeton Mean Anything at All?

What are grades supposed to do? Shouldn’t they indicate whether or not  or to what extent a given student has mastered material? I am under the impression that students think that if they master material, demonstrate that through the assigned assessments, that they earn the grades that indicate that. As one professor of mine once quipped, “I don’t give grades; you earn them.” Of course, I didn’t attend Princeton, where apparently grades are spread in a a quota system, despite Ms. Malkiel’s explanation otherwise, quoted in EducationNews.org:

Nancy Weiss Malkiel, dean of the undergraduate college at Princeton, said the policy was not meant to establish such grade quotas, but to set a goal: Over time and across all academic departments, no more than 35 percent of grades in undergraduate courses would be A-plus, A or A-minus.

What happens at Princeton is irrelevant to me, other than the fact that it has tried to become some sort of bizzare leader in curing grade inflation. Grade inflation would be when students are given higher grades than they deserve. The cure for that seems screamingly obvious: set standards for performance. Those who meet various levels earn the grades that those levels represent. The fact that, according to EdNews,  “Goldman Sachs, one of the most sought-after employers, said it did not apply a rigid G.P.A. cutoff. ‘Princeton knows that; everyone knows that,’ said Gia Morón, a company spokeswoman. ” There is a rich irony in the fact that one of the companies  that created the world-wide financial crisis is one of the companies that a)Princeton grads would be wanting their grades to impress and b) that standards don’t mean that much to Goldman Sachs.

Instilling arrogance is apparently a by-product of the education where grades are awarded on a curve regardless of the performance of the student. Grades are for the appearance of the school, to the likes of economy-wrecking financial firms, like Sachs. The EdNews article continues: “Jonathan Sarnoff, a sophomore who sits on the editorial board of The Daily Princetonian. ‘A Princeton G.P.A. is different from the G.P.A. at the College of New Jersey down the road.'” I wonder if he means that those grades are different in that they represent a particular level of mastery.

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