The 17 percent B

The British were shocked to discover students could get a B for getting 17 percent on a math test; 45 percent was good enough for an A. Captain’s Quarters and Number 2 Pencil comment.

Tall, Dark and Mysterious, a Canadian professor, responds with a long, thoughtful post to EdWonk’s call for information on grade inflation in Canada.

Searching for “Canada grade inflation,” TDM found this site.

Britain is facing another form of grade inflation, writes Madsen Pirie (via Brian): Schools are rated by how many students earn certificates, but cake decorating certification rates as high as English, math and science. For some reason, distinction in cake decorating rates higher than an A in physics.

About Joanne


  1. Well, if “exotic dancing” and “Texas Hold’Em” are presented as suggested career choices in Palo Alto, maybe the cake-decorating-value is just expressing a trend. Like “All areas of endeavor are equal even though some require more work and application than others” or “If it’s challenging, it’s not really worth doing.”

    that said, I can’t make a frosting rose to save my life, but still – I don’t see equating a certificate in cake decorating with certification in physics. That’s just wrong.

  2. Is this a scantron test? If it is a student would have to purposefully miss answers to fail it as they ought to score around 20% (for a 5 choice, 25% for 4 choice) if there is no wrong answer penalty. If that’s the case it’s a total sham and parents should be ashamed of the UK education bureaucracy.

  3. Walter E. Wallis says:

    What the heck! We can always outsource the intellectual work to India and the engineering to China.

  4. Actually, I’m doing contract work for an Indian company – cowriting a book – and I’m quite happy to have them contract work to me.

  5. Those results would only be acceptable if they were from grading on a true curve. In that case, I’d wonder about a teacher creating an exam that almost no one could pass.

  6. Depends on the test. I remember my first “Math for Mathocists” course. Not a student in the room got under 90% in high school. Class average was 18%, with the highest mark being a 42%. Talk about shell shock.

    I think that everyone who survived the course (about 10% of the original 70) went on to get at least a PhD, and most are now Math professors. (Sadly, I wasn’t among that illustrious few…)

    Anyway to the matter at hand: it’s not the actual mark that matters, but the average and who you’re giving it to. Maybe 40% *is* worth an A. Some years ago, it denoted you as probably the brightest 1st year Math student in Canada.

  7. Tom, I’m not familar with the Canadian education system, but is seems those 1st year math students should have gone through remedial coursework in the summer if they could not attain 60-70% mastery of the material. I know my first year college “Math for Mathocists” course was Calculus II and that students were expected to drop if they were encouraged to drop if they found themselves below a 40% average after the midterm. Apparantly my college math department found a 25% pass rate more palatable than reducing the standards until they became meaningless and left students unpreprared for more challengeing course work.

    Personally, I find curved grading absurd unless the purpose is to perform statistics. Grading at the classroom level (particularly at the university level) ought to reflect actual attainment.

  8. Tom – was this Waterloo, by any chance?

  9. At least the mystery of how the empire was lost is solved.

    Assuming history and geography suffered the same melt-down as math, the British just stopped learning that they had an empire.

  10. Richard Brandshaft says:

    Here’s another case of grade inflation: In my distant youth, black belts in the oriental fighting arts derived sports (miscalled “martial” arts) were rare, and indicated an very high level of study. Now it means someone reasonably athletic stuck with it for a few years. I wouldn’t want to fight any of those guys, but you could say a black belt used to mean a Ph.D., now it means a BA.

  11. It should be noted that 33% is a regular pass scale for a master degree in India. My assumption is that it’s that way for a reason. The 17% B may be equally valid, although if I was organizing the test I’d try to do a better job of making it harmonize with the existing grade structure to avoid kafuffles like this.


  1. Extra Credit Assignment: Great Reading..

    Once again, I’ve put on my electronic walking shoes and have taken a little stroll around the Education Mini-Sphere to see…