Monday, September 30, 2002

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents

What to Do About Grade Inflation

There may not be a school in the country that has avoided the temptation to inflate grades. A generation ago in the typical high school, three times as many “C’s” as “A’s” were given out. Today, that has reversed. In some high schools there are so many students with a 4.0, if every one of them got to give the valedictory address, as they should, graduation would last two days. Well, almost.

There are several reasons why grade inflation is so rampant: to make parents feel that schools are providing a good value for the several thousand dollars per pupil that schools costs today . . . to encourage students and teachers into thinking they are doing very well . . . and most of all, to carry out the widespread distorted attitude about self-esteem that no child should ever feel “not as good” as another, even when objectively measured on an academic basis by assignments and tests.

Why is grade inflation bad? For the same reasons it is so common: it gives parents and the public a phony idea about how well schools really are delivering on the expensive process of public education . . . it discourages true scholarship and intense effort among students and discourages teachers who would rather push students to do their personal bests than give out “A’s” just for showing up . . . and it ends up hurting the self-esteem of the two-thirds of the student body who “make” the Honor Roll, since the Honor Roll suddenly is a sham, and everybody knows it.

When there is grade inflation, the incentive to achieve academically is destroyed. That’s the bottom line of why it should be stopped.

And here’s how:

At Curriculum Night, at Open House, at the Parent-Teacher Organization meetings, when visiting with other parents, when you talk informally to your child’s teachers, at formal parent-teacher conferences, or even in a nice letter to the principal, school board and superintendent, ask whether the school has grade inflation.

If they say they don’t know or don’t think so, ask for the grade average of your child’s entire classroom and grade level, subject by subject.

It’s one thing to have a 3.9 on a 4.0 scale in algebra class. It’s quite another if your child’s algebra classroom grade average for all 20 students is a 3.9 and the average of the entire grade level, of all algebra students, is a 3.7.

To be fair, every child’s report card should be reporting the grade average of all students by classroom and by teacher, too. That information should be made available to all parents so that they can evaluate the honesty and integrity of the grades their children are receiving.

There’s no reason today’s report cards shouldn’t carry that information to help parents more accurately evaluate how their child is doing in relation to his or her peers. Not only that, it would be a fair way to keep schools accountable for the No. 1 tool parents and students have to measure progress and school’s effectiveness, grades.

Exposing grade inflation is the only way to correct it. And correcting it may be the only way to reverse the growing specter of students who got A’s and B’s in math and English in high school who can’t even pass a remedial college course in those subjects. That’s happening all over, even to graduates of the finest high schools in the state.

Don’t let schools tell you they don’t have grade information on a bigger scale than individual students. They do. Why do you think we bought them all that computer equipment? For better-quality information reporting, just like this.

Dig into this, and get it stopped before your child experiences the heartache of having nearly all A’s . . . and then mysteriously absolutely bombing the nationally-standardized college admission tests, because a lot of those grades were inflated and gave everyone the wrong impression about how well your child was really learning.

The only thing that should be inflated in schools is trust between parents and school employees, and grade inflation does more than anything else to keep that from happening.

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