Hoppy Kercheval, Opinion

Easy A: Grade inflation on the rise

Americans understandably worry about inflation. Increasing prices for goods and services put a strain on the family budget. But there is another inflationary factor of growing concern in this country — grade inflation.

A comprehensive study by ACT, the education non-profit best known for the ACT standardized test, finds that between 2010 and 2022, more high school students are getting higher grades. At first glance, that might seem like a good thing. But consider this:

The study “showed that grade inflation has accelerated for all students; however, average ACT Composite scores have continued to decline, reaching the lowest average score of the past decade in 2021.”

The logical conclusion is that, overall, high school students are not getting any smarter, they are just getting better grades in English, math, science and social studies.

The analysis of nearly seven million students from 3,900 schools found that “the number of students receiving B grades has decreased over time, while the number of students receiving A grades has increased.” The grade inflation was especially pronounced during the pandemic.

Fredrick Hess, a senior contributor to Forbes who covers education, writes that grade inflation undermines the benefits of a rigorous education.

“Easy As signal to students they don’t need to work hard to succeed, give parents a false sense of how their kids are doing, and allow students to graduate without essential knowledge or skills.” Hess cites research showing that students learn more from tough graders.

So, why aren’t teachers demanding more from their students? Hess cites several reasons:

A push for “grading equity” has led some school districts to eliminate a “zero” grade for work not performed and discourage penalties for turning in assignments late, while also allowing repeated re-testing opportunities.

Teachers are under increasing pressure from “helicopter parents.” Tough grading can lead to angry parents taking out their frustrations on teachers over why their child is not doing better in school.

Many colleges have moved away from standardized test scores as a determining factor for admission. Easy A grades create a smoother pathway to post-secondary education. That means an increasing number of students go to college without the skills necessary to be successful.

High school grade inflation creates a Lake Wobegon effect, named for the fictional town created by author and radio host Garrison Keillor, where “all the children are above average.” All those A grades may make students feel good, but it gives them a false sense of achievement and knowledge, leaving them unprepared for what is ahead.

Hoppy Kercheval is a MetroNews anchor and the longtime host of “Talkline.” Contact him at hoppy.kercheval@wvradio.com.