Everyone Gets an "A" -- Grade Inflation

What is grade inflation? 

The old faithful and ever reliable Merriam-Webster defines grade inflation as “a rise in the average grade assigned to students, especially the assigning of grades higher than previously assigned for given levels of achievement.”

For once, I prefer the Wikipedia version of explaining grade inflation: “the awarding of higher grades than students deserve, which yields a higher average grade given to students The tendency to award progressively higher academic grades for work that would have received lower grades in the past.” 

Student GPA used to be a good predictor of knowledge. Unfortunately, now, a 4.0 GPA is not equivalent at every school, and 4.0 definitely does not mean the same as it did in the 1990s or earlier. Additionally, there are the lovely AP classes that create weighted GPAs (allowing for up to a 5.0 GPA at many schools). 


Why do we have grade inflation in schools? 

There is no EXACT answer, but here are some theories:  

  1. Parents are more involved in their students' schooling. This is not the time of yesteryear when teachers had more control in running their class (punishment and all). Parents are more likely to complain now if they are unhappy with teacher performance and their student’s grade.

  2. Education administration is getting a lot of pressure (from the community, government, etc.) and in turn putting a lot of pressure on their teachers for their students to DO BETTER.

  3. Grade inflation is a possible way for schools to beef up their school profile. 


Grade Inflation is most likely even WORSE due to COVID-19.

Once schools were forced to shut down and work remotely, teachers were restricted even more by new grading policies. Each high school handled grading during the move to online learning differently: some opting for pass/fail policies, others proceeding normally with grading, and even others offering only positive increases in grades. 

For example, in some school districts, teachers were not allowed to give their students a grade lower than what they had before going remote. Therefore, the students could decide not to turn in any work for the rest of the year (about 3 months) and maintain the same grade.


Is my student’s grade inflated? 

After COVID-19, more than likely!  Even if a school was not a big culprit of grade inflation before, the changes in grading policies due to transitioning to remote learning definitely led to more grade inflation. I highly recommend you check to see if your high school has their school profile listed on their website.

A good indicator of grade inflation at a school is when a high percentage of the student body has As & Bs. Unfortunately, there is really no concrete way to determine if your school has grade inflation, but here are possible ways to check if your school fits the “inflation bill:” 

  1. Look up the average GPA (unweighted) of your high school. If it is a 3.0 or higher, most likely your school has a higher than average rate of grade inflation. 

  2. Find out your student’s class rank. Usually, guidance counselors have this information. If your school does NOT do class rank, that is a sign that too many students have a 4.0 or higher. If they do have rankings, you can divide your student’s rank to determine the percentage.  For example: If your child is number 75 out of 300 students.  That would be 75/300 = .25.  This would mean your child is in the 75th percentile. They are higher than 75% percent of their class and lower than 25% of their class. Does this seem to match up with their GPA? 

  3. You can check the School Profile of your specific high school to see where the seniors have been accepted to college. You can also ask current seniors or past students where they were accepted. Students with grade point averages of 4.0 or higher should be getting into competitive schools.

A school profile will often share information, such as school curriculum, study body GPA, ACT/SAT scores, earned scholarships, and college acceptances. 

Why are we talking about this?

As an academic & test prep tutoring company, we often deal with parents who are super surprised by their student’s low diagnostic ACT and/or SAT scores. Grade inflation often makes parents and students think that the diagnostic scores should be higher than they end up turning out. 

For example, consider if a student has a 3.7 GPA but so do 45% of the students at their high school. This means that they would more than likely be in the 45th percentile. Students in the 45th percentile for the 2019 ACT scored a 19 (out of 36).

Probably not what you were expecting for a B, almost A, average student, right?!

One elephant in the room with grade inflation is how it will affect your student’s performance later if they decide to go to college. Tougher grade standards have been known to set up students for more success. 

The second elephant? If colleges know a student’s school has grade inflation, will that hurt their chances of getting in? If a student’s grades have been inflated, they will need to stand out from other students in another way.  This way could be submitting ACT or SAT scores or participating in extra-curricular activities, such as volunteering and/or taking part in student government. 


Need help with academics or test prep? We’re here for you. Just contact us. :)

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