Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/398

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388
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

SCIENTIFIC VERSUS PERSONAL DISTRIBUTION OF COLLEGE CREDITS[1]
By President WILLIAM T. FOSTER

REED COLLEGE, PORTLAND, OREGON

EARLIER articles in the Popular Science Monthly and in Science have shown that grades in college courses have no exact meaning. 1 Yet college honors are everywhere awarded on the naïve assumption that grades in college courses are distributed on a scientific basic. For many important administrative purposes we assume that an A in one course is equivalent to an A in another course; that the 80 per cent, of one instructor indicates an achievement equal to the 80 per cent, of another instructor. Accordingly, we estimate the fitness of candidates for admission, determine eligibility for athletics, assign annually hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships and fellowships, award commencement honors, elect men to Phi Beta Kappa, and confer degrees wholly, or in large part, on the evidence secured by merely counting the number of As, the number of Bs, and so forth, that each student has to his credit. The question is pertinent to what extent our assumption of the equivalency of grades is warranted by the facts.

Our universities and colleges vary so little in this phase of the administration of the curriculum that the detailed distribution of the grades of a few institutions for a few years will fairly represent the practise, except in two or three universities, throughout the country. The grades A, B, C, D usually represent degrees of excellence between 100 per cent, and 60 per cent, of some undefined thing and are all pass marks. The grade E commonly indicates failure. In the figures here presented, the grades have these meanings. The per cent, of the students in each subject who receive each grade is graphically shown, so that a glance reveals the central tendency for each grade in each institution and the extreme deviations in both directions. In all cases the names of instructors and the exact designations of the courses are omitted, at the request of the several institutions concerned; though one may be pardoned the query, what objections could there be to publicity, if grades were distributed on a defensible basis.

Figs. 1 and 2 show the proportion each grade is of the whole number given at Harvard College in each of the elementary courses in twenty-one subjects during one academic year. Thus, the range of the highest

  1. Popular Science Monthly, Vol. LXVI., pp. 367-378, 1905, by J. McKeen Cattell. Science, N. S., Vol. XXVIII., No. 712, pp. 243-250, 1908, by Max Meyer.