Grade inflation sets students up for an uncertain future
By the Editorial Board
Today, teens in America face an ever-growing wave of problems. From rising depression rates to the constant political unrest, modern generations are growing up with a completely different set of issues from their parents. As a result of these broader issues, the American education system is evolving for the worse. Classrooms are being affected by a multitude of outside factors, leading to the prevalence of grade inflation and lack of accountability.
Overall, grades are improving, but it’s not because current high schoolers are smarter or teachers are discernibly better than in previous generations. Instead, the external pressure from parents and the constant stresses of college acceptance compel teachers to give better and better grades.
In today’s classrooms, it is commonplace for the majority of students to earn an A. In our editorial board’s experience, many students comments that school is too easy, and that they are not being academically challenged. However, this wasn’t always the case.
According to the Washington Post, C’s used to make up a quarter of all school grades. Indeed, a C used to be considered an average grade. D’s and F’s were also a regular part of the grading system. However, recent years have seen this balance collapse. The Washington Post reports that C’s now make up a tenth of all grades, while around 40 percent of students receive nearly all A’s. According to prepexpert.com, students are three times more likely now to receive an A now than were in the 1960s. These trends are further confirmed by gradeinflation.com, which reports that the national average GPAs has risen by 0.3 points since 1983.
Many schools credit this increase to improvements within the school system or an advancement in teaching techniques. However, the nationwide average SAT score has dropped 24 points in the last three decades. While teachers continue to give out increasingly high grades, overall intelligence does not seem to have improved.
More so than in the past, teachers are also being forced to keep up with external demands. While parents’ contact with teachers regarding their children’s grades plays a role in grading, a far more impactful force is the insurmountable stress college applications add to the grading process.
The American education system gears students toward one goal: getting into college. Many high school teachers even say their most important role is to prepare students for the next big step of greater education. This position as keeper of the collegiate gate can come with a downside: fighting to maintain objectivity in a world of ever-increasing competition. Students view the difference between an A and a B as the difference between getting into or not getting into their top school. This polarity puts teachers in a difficult position: force their students to become accountable for their grades, or help ease the already-stressful and arduous process of getting into colleges with ever-shrinking acceptance rates.
Some teachers choose the route of resisting inflated grades. However, the negative reactions they may receive from both students and parents may threaten their job security. Especially at the college level, many students choose classes based on the reviews of the teachers. If a teacher develops a reputation for being a tough grader, they may lose students, especially when there is no difference on a transcript between the challenging teacher’s class and an easier one.
The situation might seem like a Catch-22: whether teachers choose to grade based on current standards or submit to outside pressures, people will be unhappy either way — except only one of these choices offers greater job security.
Something about the situation must be changed. The current system leaves students woefully unprepared and unexpecting of the challenges in their future. When much of the student body receives higher grades than they deserve, they are set up for sharp disappointment later down the road.
The prevalence of grade inflation within modern schools is part of a broader trend. Gen Z’s are infamous for being overpraised by their helicopter parents from the 70s. The constant validation given to today’s teens may backfire.
Many predict that due to this lack of preparation, it will be more difficult than ever for today’s teens to find a job. Only half of those from ages 15-29 are currently employed, and nearly 15% of college graduates cannot even find work, according to New York Magazine. Many predict that this may be the first generation that is not better off than its parents.
Schools must prepare their students for this difficult reality. By assigning top grades to those who have not earned them, teachers are inadvertently teaching their students they don’t need to work their hardest. Teachers must accurately evaluate their students through honest, genuine grading that gives each student a clear picture of their progress. Every level of the problem — from students, to teachers, to parents — must be challenged to be more accountable. By holding kids to a higher standard, schools will be able to better prepare the leaders of tomorrow.