Harvard handed out fewer grades of A and A-minus to undergraduates last year, the second year in a row that marks have declined at the university, according to school data.

Some officials see the shift as a positive sign at a school that has been grappling with grade inflation.

"I think that moving grades more in the direction of the B-level will restore A as a recognition for truly outstanding work," Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education Jeffrey Wolcowitz said.

Analysis of grading practices at Harvard over several years showed that marks at the school have been rising steadily -- A-range grades now make up nearly half of all marks -- and that the school handed out honors to most graduates.

Last May, Harvard faculty approved changes to curb inflation of grades and honors. Starting this fall, Harvard will drop its unusual 15-point grading scale and change to the more standard 4.0-scale because the old system tended to encourage professors to round grades up from B-pluses to A-minuses.

Beginning in 2005, the school will reduce the number of honors given to graduating students.

But the deflation in the 2001-2002 grades occurred before any of the changes have gone into effect, indicating professors are giving out lower grades as a result of public discussion, Wolcowitz said.