Grade inflation is where a student’s given grade is higher than the grade they “deserve.” Typically, this results in a higher average GPA across the class, since everyone in that class has had their grade increased. Sometimes, grade inflation is achieved through a process called “curving,” which is adjusting everyone’s grade by a set percentage. Though helpful in certain cases, grade inflation has an overall negative impact on student learning.
Both the ACT and College Board have conducted investigations into inflated GPA’s. According to the ACT, “the average high school GPA increased 0.19 grade points, from 3.17 in 2010 to 3.36 in 2021,” while the College Board reports that the mean GPA of SAT test-takers increased from 3.17 in 1994 to 3.36 in 2012. The ACT also found that while in 2010, 40.34 percent of test-takers had an average grade of A, in 2021 this figure was 54.92 percent.
However, this increase in GPA and average grade does not correlate with an increase in student test scores. For example, between 1994 and 2016, (when the SAT went through a redesign) the average math score on the SAT went from 504 to 508, while the average critical reading score across the same time period went from 499 to 494. When writing was introduced into the SAT in 2006, the average score was 497 for that section. By 2016, it had dropped all the way to 482. This shows that although students are getting higher grades in school, their performance over that time period has actually dropped.
If Berkeley High School (BHS) teachers were to give out A’s and B’s at higher rates, students might be misled into thinking that they don’t need to work hard to get a good grade. Additionally, if teachers continue to boost grades, over time, students may start to study less for tests and not learn as much information, since they will expect a high grade no matter the results.
This mindset might also seep into their work ethic, creating students who are unprepared for life after high school since they have been “trained” not to need to work hard or stay focused.
Some might say that grade inflation benefits students since it mitigates the pressure on them to do well in school. While this is a good point, we must also recognize the value in the learning and growth that can be achieved in receiving realistic feedback on one’s work.
On top of this, students that are considering college may find different stressors in having to differentiate themselves from a student body with nearly identical grades.
The negative impacts of grade inflation cannot be ignored. The continuation of grade inflation may cause students to unlearn the importance of hard work and good work ethic, which may cause them harm in their future endeavors. Additionally, students who want to get into college will also have a harder time doing so, since grades may appear more similar due to grade inflation. All in all, grade inflation is not good and BHS should start looking for solutions to combat it.