Wharton management prof Adam Grant argues in a recent NYT op-ed that colleges should not use forced distributions when handing out grades. In a forced distributions, there are limits on the number of students who can receive a particular grade, e.g., only 25% can get A's, the next 35% can get B's. This type of system is in place in core classes at many of the world's leading business schools.
Grant sees two serious defects: one related to fairness and the other related to collegiality. The forced curve might say there can only be ten A's in a class, but what if 15 students have performed at A level? What if only five students perform at A level, do the other five get an A anyway? Experienced professors who have taught the same course year after year are in a very good position to make sure grades are equitable relative to standards, Grant argues. As for collegiality, forced distributions turn classmates into adversaries in what Grant calls a "zero-sum game."
Forced distributions do prevent grade inflation. Today over 40 percent of all grades are in the A range. Grant in essence is arguing whether the cure is a larger danger than the disease.
Closing note: there are no forced grade distributions in the NC State MBA program.
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