Friday, July 20, 2007

Things I can't stand - above 4.0 GPAs

One thing that irks me is "ratings inflation" - when we take something used to evaluate people and distort its usefulness by making so many rate highly. GPAs above 4.0 are one example. Here's part of a listing from Prosper (a peer-to-peer lending site):

Size of Loan: $15,200
Interest Rate: 28.5%
Purpose of loan:
I will use this loan to pay the $15200 in school tuition and expenses for my daughter's high school. The loan is needed because our financial aid from the high school was significantly reduced this year. We do not want to remove our daughter from this school because she is very happy and has GPA greater than 4.0; she has several honors courses.

Now, aside from the fact that these parents have ruined their personal credit to the point they're desperate to borrow money at 28.5% and still insist on spending so much for a private high school, let's talk about the GPA.

The way a lot of high schools do it now is that you get an extra letter grade (called an "honor point") if you take an honors class. So a C counts as a B, a B counts as an A, and an A counts as an A plus a point, or whatever you want to call it. With it easy to take half or more of classes as honors, students can easily get above a 4.0 GPA using this scale.

The problem with this is that it renders the GPA figure totally useless. If you're a college admissions officer, what does a 4.0 GPA mean? It could mean the student got all A's. Or it could mean the student got mostly B's, but in honors classes which are supposedly more difficult grade-wise. There's no way to tell.

My friend John even had a 4.7 GPA in high school. Don't get me wrong, he's a smart guy, but I always shook my head when people would find that out and be like, "wow you must be a supergenius."

It has gotten to the point where universities such as Stanford say as plainly as possible that want a student's unweighted GPA, meaning no honor points.

I thought my high school used to get it right. You had an unweighted GPA, with 4.0 being the highest (and I think maybe only one or two in the whole grade got that) and a weighted GPA, out of 6. A GPA of 4.5 sounds much less impressive once you admit it's out of 6....

But the best measure was class rank. Each student was ranked from 1 to 476. This was the most informative. Even on an unweighted scale, an admissions office or someone else evaluating a GPA would want to know how that compares to others.

But back to the listing - if you really want to lend to a family that based on their credit has a very high chance of not paying you back, just don't think you're supporting a budding Einstein based off the GPA. She may be smart for all I know, but you really don't know anything because some GPAs have become so uninformative.

And that is the problem with ratings inflation.


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