Forced Distribution Grading

Mitchell Langbert

A colleague who teaches at Baruch College (the City University of New York's business school) forwarded an e-mail from the Baruch administration reminding faculty who teach certain core courses such as Marketing Foundations that they must follow a forced grade distribution of   "20-30% A or A-, 40-50% B(+/-) (and) 25-30% C+ or lower".  This curve is reminiscent of one  under which I've labored as an adjunct at the NYU Stern School of business, where A's are limited to 35%. Grade inflation is characteristic of a McDonaldized higher education system under which students are customers for a degree product.  But the solution is not intensification of the McDonaldization by inappropriately forcing distributions. There is no reason to assume that learning is normally distributed. All of the students in the class may learn the material well.  The quality expert Edward I. Deming, who says that he gave all A's when he taught at the NYU Business School, points out that it is difficult to know the underlying productive abilities of a group of employees (or students) and that performance may be uniformly as well as normally distributed. Imposing a normal distribution on a uniform population is  capricious, adds variance to the system and so is disruptive in Deming's view.

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