Graduations: The inflation of good school grades

DAs every year at this time, Germany is in the hot phase of Abitur. Justification for the North Rhine-Westphalia Association of Philologists to take a closer look at the Abitur requirements and grades for this and previous years. The grade point average in NRW has been improving every year since 2007.

The association’s president, Sabine Mistler, fears that Abitur will be devalued as a result of “degree inflation”. The good preparation of high school graduates for university is important to her. It therefore requires a realistic assessment and a basic discussion of the content of the teaching. This is in fact one of the quality assurance tasks of the Conference of Ministers of Education (KMK) and the Ministries of Education of the Federal States. What does KMK do in this connection – and do the described results apply to all countries?

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The Ministries of Education, KMK and the teachers put a lot of preparatory work into the Abituren. For example, standards are formulated and new exam formats are developed. What is missing, however, is the follow-up work: Are there significant differences between the countries over the years in terms of the average grade in Abitur? If so, what are these addicted to? From the chosen exam subjects, from specific exam forms? Are there significant differences between countries with regard to the allocation of the grade 1.0 or with regard to the error rate?

The necessary scientific follow-up work, commissioned by KMK, is missing. However, as we need the Abitur grade as a measure of achievement, for example for admission to the university, these measured values ​​should be continuously observed and analyzed over the years. No one can wish for “gradual inflation”, at least not the Philologists’ Association, but any adjustments that may be necessary can only be made through continuous observation and an attempt to provide reliable reasons for this.

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In addition, the “corona effects” have not yet been systematically and comparatively observed and analyzed. Because in contrast to the generally regretted, allegedly poor schooling of students during the pandemic, all graded final exams so far show that students have gotten better.

The tax chamber of data that we have, among other things, from the average grades, 1.0 degrees or error rates, must now be raised. However, no teachers ‘association is responsible for this (here the philologists’ association has made a commendable preparation), but this is the task that KMK has so far neglected. KMK should order the Department of Quality Assurance in Education, the Standing Scientific Commission or another scientific working group to do this. What is missing here is the high-quality, detailed, continuous scientific analysis from which conclusions can then be drawn.

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Different developments can be observed in the countries. For example, the longitudinal section shows that the average grade in Abitur in Baden-Württemberg in the school year 2005/2006 of 2.38 is as high as in the school year 2019/2020. There is no continuous increase in the Abitur average grade. In contrast, it shows that the average Abitur grade in Berlin was 2.68 in the school year 2005/2006, rising continuously and is 2.24 in the school year 2020/2021. We see clear differences: In the school year 2020/2021, the average Abitur in Schleswig-Holstein is 2.40 – in Thuringia it is 2.06.

With such an analysis and other building blocks, work can and must be done on a comparable Abitur at a higher level between the countries and a more appropriate relationship between performance and evaluation. From the point of view of the German Philologists’ Association, these building blocks include a revision of the grading regulation for the Abitur exams, which was recently established by the Minister of Education Conference in 2016. With it, examiners have recently received a sufficient grade for a 45 percent achievement and a passed exam is certified in instead of 50 percent. It follows that 85 percent performance is already given a minus one, and a straight one to 90 percent. My assumption would be that this contributes to higher grade point averages. The service provided and the assessment provided by KMK are not in a sufficient proportion. This needs to change.

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However, KMK does not want this, even though they are currently working on the planned “political project for Abitur” from the state agreement adopted in 2020/2021, which was signed by all prime ministers.

Other building blocks for a comparable Abitur include a change (and reduction!) In the opportunity created by the Ministers of Education to complete 20 percent of all overall courses with insufficient grades (less than five points) and thus be admitted to the Abitur. It is thus possible to complete all basic courses in German or mathematics over a period of two years with insufficient performance (less than 5 points). How to not secure your study ability! What is also needed is more comparability through a higher number and a smaller range of courses from the two years in high school that are to be included in the Abitur evaluation. The Minister of Education Conference is currently enabling students in one country to include 32 top-level courses in the Abitur assessment and 40 courses in the other country. That is one-fifth of the politically provoked and inevitable difference.

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The “political project Abitur” can therefore be read with two meanings. According to the above, it is more of a project that KMK is carefully pursuing. The German Association of Philologists is therefore calling for more comparability at a higher level.

Nevertheless, the basic construction of the German Abitur grade is very good, because two thirds of the long-term assessment of the school performance that the high school students have achieved over two years flows into the Abitur grade and the school performance obtained in the final exams makes up one third . This is a balanced relationship between long-term and short-term power measurement.

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That KMK has long worked in a different way with the “political project Abitur” appears from the grade regulation for the Abitur exams described above. Can it be concluded that the politically desired level of average Abitur grades depends more on such assessment provisions from KMK than on the students’ actual performance? Then an increase in the level of the average Abitur grades would be a product that KMK politically wants. The previous treatment of the “political project Abitur” should be put to the test.

The author is the national chairman of the German Philological Society.

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