Research indicates that many high school students are underprepared for the postsecondary opportunities they want to pursue. However, in many schools, the grades that students receive don’t reflect this gap.
A recent Thomas B. Fordham Institute event explored the realities and potential pitfalls of grade inflation while dissecting findings from three recent publications:
- Fordham’s Grade Inflation in High Schools (2005–2016), which shows that many students get good grades, but few earn top marks on corresponding statewide end-of-course exams. According to the report, grade inflation was more severe in the schools attended by affluent students than in those attended by lower-income pupils.
- TNTP’s The Opportunity Myth, which found that many students are unprepared because they spend too much time working on assignments below grade level, do not have engaging classroom time, and are not challenged to achieve high expectations.
- Measuring Success: Testing, Grades and the Future of College Admissions, particularly a chapter exploring grade inflation research by Michael Hurwitz of College Board. According to Hurwitz, high school grade inflation has been increasing, though not at all schools—making it more difficult for stakeholders to determine what an ‘A’ grade truly means.
During the recent discussion, advocates underscored the point that students and their families trust grades as a strong indicator of progress, even though they can be misleading.
“Parents and kids don’t know that their grades can mean different things depending on the school they go to,” said Bailey Cato Czupryk, partner at TNTP.
Advocates also acknowledged the various factors that contribute to grade inflation, including administrative pressure, testing backlash, college acceptance concerns, and more. Still, it’s important to remember that grade inflation is “not a victimless crime,” said Adam Tyner, Fordham’s associate director of research.
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