Tag Archives: Russell Nielie

A Double Shock to Liberal Professors

haidt200.jpgSocial psychology has long been a haven for left-wing scholars. Jonathan Haidt, one of  the best known and most respected young social psychologists, has heaved two bombshells at his field–one indicting it for effectively excluding conservatives (he is a liberal) and the other for what he sees as a jaundiced and cult-like opposition to religion (he is an atheist).

Here he is on the treatment of conservatives:

I submit to you that the under-representation of conservatives in social psychology, by a factor of several hundred, is evidence that we are a tribal moral community that actively discourages conservatives from entering. … We should take our own rhetoric about the benefits of diversity seriously and apply it to ourselves. … Just imagine if we had a true diversity of perspectives in social psychology.  Imagine if conservative students felt free enough to challenge our dominant ideas, and bold enough to pull us out of our deepest ideological ruts. That is my vision for our bright  post-partisan future.

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The Underperformance Problem

On average black students do much worse on the SAT and many other standardized tests than whites. While encouraging progress was made in the 1970s and early 1980s in improving black SAT scores and reducing the black/white test score gap, progress in this direction came to a halt by the early 1990s, and today the gap stands pretty much where it was twenty years ago. Whereas whites and Asians today average a little over 500 on the math and reading portions of the SAT, blacks score only a little over 400 — in statistical metric a gap of a full standard deviation. Only about one in six blacks does as well on the SAT as the average white or Asian.
This state of affairs is well known uncomfortable though it may be to bring up in public. Less well known is what in the scholarly literature is called “the underperformance problem.” Once in college blacks with the same entering SAT scores as whites and Asians earn substantially lower grades over their college careers and wind up with substantially lower class rankings. This gap in grade performance, moreover, is not reduced by adding high school grades or socio-economic status to the criteria for matching students. Blacks equally matched with whites or Asians in terms of their entering scholastic credentials and socio-economic backgrounds simply do not perform as well as their Asian and white counterparts in college. And the degree of underperformance is often very substantial.
This is contrary to what many people have been led to believe. Standardized tests are “culturally biased,” it is said, and do not fairly indicate the abilities or promise of racial minorities growing up outside the dominant white, middle-class, Anglo-Saxon culture. Often this claim is bolstered by reciting items on long outdated verbal tests asking for the meaning of words like “regatta” or “cotillion” that only upper-class whites are likely to know. The implication is usually that those from minority cultures will do better in college in terms of grades than their test scores would predict. The “cultural bias” argument, however, is not only questionable on its face — since the clearly non-Anglo Saxon Asians do better than whites on most standardized tests of mathematical abilities including the SAT, while the equally non-Anglo Saxon Ashkenazic Jews outperform everyone else on tests of English verbal ability — but fails to account for the fact that in terms of grade performance blacks in college consistently do worse, not better, than their standardized test scores would predict. Standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT overpredict, not underpredict, how well blacks will do in college, and in this sense the tests are predictively biased in favor of blacks, not against them.

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Princeton’s Victory Over Grade Inflation

princeton_university_fort.jpgGrade inflation is one of those realities of the post-60s academic world that most college teachers bemoan but feel powerless to do anything about. It is virtually impossible for any single faculty member to do much to stem the tide of ever rising grade distributions. If a faculty member refuses to go along with the upward shift in grades and gives his students lower grades than they would have received for comparable work in other courses, students will rightfully complain that to those reading their official transcript it will falsely appear as if they have done lesser work or achieved at a lower level in the hold-out grader’s course than in other courses. Such faculty members will find many fewer students taking their courses — including many conscientious and competitive students whom the teacher does not want to scare away. Worse still, since tenure and promotion decisions are often partially based on student evaluations and student enrollments that frequently reflect past satisfaction with a professor’s grading policy, university teachers today pay a heavy price for bucking the inflationary trend.
Perhaps the best that a lone academic can do is represented by Harvard government professor Harvey Mansfield. Mansfield can remember a time when the average GPA at Harvard College was around 2.5 on a 4.0 scale — today it is about 3.5. The transition from C+ to B+ as the average grade has produced the ludicrous result that in some years nine in ten Harvard seniors graduated with official honors. For Mansfield the idea that grades should mean what grading keys still often say they mean — i.e., that an A means “Excellent,” “Truly Outstanding,” a B “Very Good,” “Above Average,” and a C “Average” — carries a good deal of weight. But implementing such a grading policy is impossible in a grading environment in which C grades have practically disappeared from most humanities and social science courses (representing less than 5 percent of the grades in some departments), and more than half of students in many Harvard courses receive A range grades. Mansfield came up with a creative solution that enabled him to avoid what would have been a bitter and ultimately futile struggle against the inflationary flood waters of the times without having to sing praises to the river gods. Mansfield has for many years now given his students two sets of grades, one for the official Harvard transcript, the other representing what the students really deserve on a non-inflated grading scale.
Does It Really Exist?
Some deny that grade inflation exists. According to these people — usually students or their parents — students are simply getting smarter these days, especially at the most prestigious colleges and universities which draw from a huge talent pool. The higher grades obtained at such places reflect genuinely higher achievement, these people say, just as the superior performance in track and field events at the Olympics represent genuine advances over earlier competitors, not changes in the evaluation metric.
But no college teacher with hands-on experience of the rising grades at the better colleges over the past several decades can take such claims seriously. Term papers of a quality that would have received a B or B+ in former times are now routinely given an A-, and with the near elimination of C range grades in many humanities and social science courses (except for failing or near-failing work), the B and B- grades have come to absorb everything that previously would have been awarded a C or even a D. To anyone with knowledge of an earlier period, it is clear that there has been both protracted grade inflation (higher grades overall for work no better than in an earlier period), and grade compression (almost all grades compressed into the A+ to B- range).

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