Alternative Class Ranks Using Z-Scores
Nicholas Van Niel
Analysis Group, Inc.
April 4, 2011
Grades at U.S. colleges and universities have increased precipitously over the last 50 years, suggesting that the signaling power of grades has become attenuated. Moreover, average grades have risen disproportionately in some departments, implying that weak students in departments with high grades may obtain better class ranks than strong students in departments with low grades. Using a unique data set, we show that variation in student ability does not fully explain variation in grades awarded in different departments at one prominent U.S. college. We then propose a simple alternative measure of calculating class rank based on z-scores, and demonstrate that this relative measure of rank mitigates the bonus (penalty) associated with taking courses in departments with high (low) grading distributions.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 21
Keywords: grades, grading systems, GPA, higher education, class rank
JEL Classification: I21working papers series
Date posted: April 5, 2011
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