Grade inflation is hurting high school education

I recently toured The University of Oklahoma, one of my top college choices for next fall. In the introductory presentation, an admissions administrator discussed the institution’s holistic approach to reviewing applications.

I couldn’t help but notice the emphasis on “academic rigor” — SAT scores, GPA, class rank, and whether more than half of an applicant’s classes were in advanced placement. Conversely, extracurriculars, essays, and recommendation letters appeared much less important to an application.

So despite any reports suggesting that standardized test scores are becoming less important, they still seem to weigh heavily on admissions. But there’s no disclosure as to what’s more important: Is it SAT and ACT scores, or is it GPA? This is unfortunate for students, because recent data suggests that the average GPA is rising while the average SAT score is dropping.

According to a CBS News report, 47 percent of high school seniors graduated with an “A” average last year, up from 39 percent in 1998. During that same time span, SAT scores dropped 24 points. That means the average student is getting better grades and at the same time missing between 2 and 5 more questions on the SAT.

This information suggests that it’s becoming easier to “succeed” in the classroom. It’s very possible high schools are handing out more A’s than deserved, or the curriculum is getting easier, thereby creating an environment in which students think they’re doing okay when in fact they’re being set up to arrive at college unprepared.

At my high school, it at least seems easy to obtain an A. In the AP Calculus class, one of the more difficult courses offered, students who roll a lucky 6 with a die get a free 100 percent for the current chapter’s homework.

Beyond such practices, it should at least raise eyebrows that the average high school GPA nationwide is now better than an A-minus — up from 3.27 to 3.38 in the last 19 years, according to a Harvard Graduate School of Education study.

There’s no obvious political solution to grade inflation, but it is hurting students. Whatever motivations schools might have to give out inflated grades, the workforce won’t be so accommodating. Grade inflation means that the poor student, thinking himself more than adequate in his studies, will be propelled into college and career situations he can’t handle. Meanwhile, the exceptional student will be viewed with suspicion, as potential employers find they’ve been burned too many times by the low performance of hires with high GPAs.

If the focus of secondary and higher education is to give students a temporary feeling of self-confidence, then grade inflation is probably accomplishing that. But if the main goal is to prepare students for a career and adulthood, then grade inflation is undermining the work that the nation’s schools are supposed to be doing for their students.

Michael Betrus is a rising senior at Hebron High School in Carrollton, Texas. He runs his own news website

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