# Grade inflation

## Contents

## Definition

Grade inflation refers to a phenomenon (real or perceived) where higher grades become easier to attain over time. There are two ways of thinking about grade inflation.

### Grade inflation from a norm-referenced perspective

In the norm-referenced assessment sense, grade inflation refers to a phenomenon where the proportion of students receiving grades at or above a certain level increases with time (another way of putting this is that the grade distribution undergoes a first-order stochastic improvement). In particular, the mean and median grade increase with time.

### Grade inflation from a criterion-referenced perspective

In the criterion-referenced assessment sense, grade inflation refers to a phenomenon where the absolute competency level needed to acquire a particular grade in a particular course (that allegedly teaches and tests for the same competency level) declines over time.

### Comparison of the two kinds of grade inflation

Assuming that there is no change over time in the extent to which students acquire competency in the course, grade inflation from a norm-referenced perspective is equivalent to grade inflation from a criterion-referenced perspective. However:

- If the competency acquired by students increases over time (i.e., later cohorts of students acquire more competency than earlier cohorts of students) then it is possible to have grade inflation from a norm-referenced perspective without having grade inflation from a criterion-referenced perspective. At any rate, the extent of grade inflation from a norm-referenced perspective would be greater than the extent of grade inflation from a criterion-referenced perspective.
- If the competency acquired by students declines over time (i.e., later cohorts of students acquire less competency than earlier cohorts of students) then it is possible to have grade inflation from a criterion-referenced perspective without having grade inflation from a norm-referenced perspective. At any rate, the extent of grade inflation from a criterion-referenced perspective would be greater than the extent of grade inflation from a norm-referenced perspective.