While the average high school GPA has gone up in the last two decades, SAT scores have fallen.
Education experts have been concerned about high school grade inflation for years, but parents may be unfamiliar with the practice – or why it could cause issues for students in college.
1. Why should parents know about grade inflation? Today, when every student is a high achiever and gets a trophy, there’s a lot of pressure from parents on educators to ensure all students receive high marks, says Robert Bardwell, a school counselor at Monson High School in Massachusetts.
While this problem isn’t very prevalent at his school, Bardwell says in his 24-year career he’s seen a change in society, where students expect higher grades, and parents may demand it. Some teachers may feel it’s easier to give a higher grade or assign less work than deal with confrontation from families.
But Chris Reeves, a school counselor at Beechwood High School in Kentucky, isn’t so sure about grade inflation. Some schools, like his, just have a lot of really great students, he says – though he acknowledges that educators do feel pressure from parents.
If anything, he says, there are some students who “play school really well” – they do homework and participate in class – and perhaps these kinds of tasks contribute to a higher percentage of students’ overall grades, rather than tests, which these students may struggle on. That might be a cause of grade inflation, but he doesn’t think it’s intentional and is something teachers at his school are working on.
2. How can high school grade inflation affect students in college? Some students may be in for a shock in college if they have tough professors who aren’t very flexible with grades, Bardwell says. Depending on the school, students affected by grade inflation may be unprepared for the rigor of college courses, he says.
“The issue, I think, comes from the kid who has never gotten a B and then they get their first B, and they are devastated and they don’t know how to handle it,” says Reeves.
High school is a great place to experience failure because there are so many people there to help students work through it, he says.
3. What can parents do to combat high school grade inflation? “At least don’t be part of the problem by pushing teachers to raise grades,” Reeves says.
Parents should approach teachers with any concerns, he says. But if a student gets a B-plus, parents should work through this issue with their child – not the teacher.
If parents are concerned because their child’s grades are high but test scores are low, they should investigate the specific skills their child may be struggling with – rather than jumping to grade inflation, says Fran Swift, director of school counseling at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School in New Jersey.
Parents shouldn’t be worried about grade inflation unless they see a pattern in the school’s profile – an entire school of straight-A students with average SAT scores less than 500 in each area, for instance, she says. Colleges would start to question the school, too.
Some students are just not good test-takers, Swift says, or are bad at particular types of exams. Students could be good at memorization and struggle with critical thinking skills, among other explanations, Swift says.
She would question educators about what their child’s scores mean in terms of college readiness, and see if teachers have suggestions to shore up their child’s skills.