Friday, September 17, 2010

Reports Cards for Consumers Don't Always Make the Grade

by Carl Bialik

Wall Street Journal
September 17, 2010

If the EPA adopts a proposed vehicle-grading system, there will be no easy A's. In Los Angeles, though, a restaurant might have both an A rating from health authorities and a roach infestation.

Government agencies increasingly are putting out report cards on cars, schools, restaurants and other offerings to help consumers sort among them. But such grading systems can emphasize simplicity over precision, and decisions about the criteria they use have a significant impact on results. Plus, using letter grades risks lumping together very different performers. In Los Angeles County, 98% of restaurants got A's or B's last year for health safety.

Not so at the Environmental Protection Agency. The agency recently proposed redesigned labels for new vehicles, with one option including grades ranging from D to A-plus for fuel economy and greenhouse-gas emissions. Fewer than 1% of 2010 models—17 of 2,011— would rate an A-minus or better, according to calculations by the EPA.


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