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Grade Inflation is present and its effects may be more damaging then you think

The Economist this past week spoke of the notion of panflation, or better said the inflation of everything. “This ‘panflation’ needs to be recognized for the plague it has become.” I couldn’t agree more. What caught my eye in the article was the authors discussion of grade inflation.  Grades have always been a tricky topic for me ever since I was a child. I was punished by grades, or rewarded by grades (possibly a punishment in itself). Early on in my teaching career, I struggled mightily on the concept of grades, and more importantly, the idea of points and the percentages as well as the notorious concept of  “grading on the curve” that was in the tool kit of every teacher to help smooth out the rough points in our delivery of the curriculum. I began to realize that the notion of grades and the process of grading, were complex and led to a power game, both inside and outside of the classroom that could be either positive or negative depending on how you played the grade game.

What I found early on was that an “F” grade did not always connote failure, nor the “A” grade excellence. After a number of years running a college admissions program for average to lower achieving students–whatever average or lower achieving means–I realized that most college admissions candidates within the high school I was teaching looked exactly the same. How outside of the college admissions essay, or admissions interview, could the admissions director ever differentiate between on qualified candidate over the next. Now, The Economist seems to agree with my view:

“Some other strains of inflation have more serious economic effects. One example is grade inflation, the tendency for comparable academic performance to be awarded higher grades over time. In Britain the proportion of A-level students given “A” grades has risen from 9% to 27% over the past 25 years. Yet other tests find that children are no cleverer than they were. A study by Durham University concluded that an A grade today is the equivalent of a C in the 1980s. In American universities almost 45% of graduates now get the top grade, compared with 15% in 1960. Grade inflation makes students feel better about themselves, but because the highest grade is fixed, it also causes grade compression, which distorts relative prices. This is unfair to the brightest, whose grades are devalued against those of average students. It also makes it harder for employers to identify the best applicants.”

As a high school teacher, I witnessed first-hand the daily struggle of students trying to learn under the weight of a grading system everyone was captured by, but few understood. When it came time for me to develop my own grading system, I was amazed by how quickly I adopted the same grading system that I myself had suffered under as a student. Now, I see the struggle of parents and students as a private educational consultant, when neither they nor I, can explain why their 4. 0 G.P.A. student was denied admission to a college while another client who’s overall academic record was seemingly inferior. What seemed to be just a subjective element to an already complex process administered by more than likely overworked and probably underpaid college admissions staff, could have another explanation to be further pondered and even addressed by all parties before its effects are felt by future generations.

See the full story about “panflation” at The Economist

One Commnet on “Grade Inflation is present and its effects may be more damaging then you think

  1. When parents view an online grading system, where a 10 point homework assignment can swing a letter grade from a D to a B, what’s the real value of the point? How and why are points assigned a particular numerical value for a particular assignment?

    As a teacher, the points seemed like an objective standard to evaluate my students. After I started being asked and asking my own questions, I had to step back and wonder about the objectivity of the points. After all, as a teacher I was the sole authority assigning points. My principal or vice principal could question my actions, yet had no authority to change grades assigned by me, even at the protests (loud or otherwise) of parents and students. That’s a powerful position for one person. As a teacher of Seniors on the verge of graduation, who were required to pass my government class as a graduation requirement, those points I awarded or didn’t had even greater consequences.

    As a consultant for the past 11 years, I see the confusion of students and their parents to understand a student’s proficiency in a subject based on the letter grade and at the same time feel the pressure of enacting a strategy to manage assignments, that doesn’t add to their learning, yet gains the letter grade result s/he seeks. Given the inflation in grades and the subjectivity of grades, how can students and parents find the value of grades in understanding the student’s academic performance and proficiency?

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