The transition to virtual instruction has raised concerns of grade inflation among some Cal State Fullerton professors while others dismiss its existence.
In September, economics professor Randy Hoffman said he saw an 11% increase in test scores this year compared to the average score in his past 10 years at CSUF.
Frank Russell, an assistant communications professor, said he noticed a slight increase in the average grades of his spring courses, but attributed it to the credit/no credit grading option that was offered for all courses in the 2020 spring semester. He said the trend continued through the beginning of the fall, but said he was not completely sure of the reason.
“Early in the semester, I was seeing a majority of students seem to be doing better. I really can't say why, though,” Russell said. “I was getting a sense that there was at least a sizable proportion of students who were benefiting from the flexibility of online instruction.”
Some of the newfound flexibility is directly tied to a lack of work and the elimination of commuting to campus, he said. 98% of CSUF students live off campus, according to U.S. News.
As this semester progressed, Russell said his students’ grade averages have returned closer to normal because due dates for his larger assignments are toward the end of the year. A large portion of his students are doing better than usual, but the few who are struggling are bringing the averages down to normal percentages, he said.
“I would say there probably are a few students who are struggling, who are afraid to ask questions. And if we were having a class in person, I have a sense that they would feel more comfortable approaching me in a more casual way than online or office hours on Zoom,” Russell said.
Austin Nation, an assistant nursing professor at CSUF’s College of Health and Human Development, said he noticed that more students than usual are struggling to maintain a passing grade.
“I have about the same or maybe even a greater number of students that I've had to put on learning contracts, which are students that are getting below the required 75% passing rate on their exams,” Nation said. “I have to monitor them for the duration of the course to make sure that they are maintaining a cumulative 75%.”
At the end of the spring semester, he said he noticed that his test scores were slightly higher than average. Nation said that he and other nursing professors were more willing to give out higher grades due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but there was no loss in the quality of the work turned in by his students.
Only one of Nation’s classes is monitored using Proctorio, a software that is used to ensure the integrity of virtual exams. For other classes, however, he asks students to leave their cameras on while taking their quizzes to emulate how he would proctor in the classroom.
In all three courses, there has not been an increase in grades drastic enough to suggest elevated levels of academic dishonesty, Nation said.
Due to the nature of Russell’s classes, he said he did not feel the need to implement Proctorio for quizzes and exams. Scrambling exam questions from a selection of word banks and short answer questions helped him maintain the integrity of exams during the shift to virtual instruction.
“Are you going to stop cheating as a professor? I don't know if you can, but I think that there are ways to design how you measure students’ performance so that cheating doesn't help them very much,” Russell said.