Grade Inflation: The Grand Illusion

To the Editor:

Thank you to Elizabeth Floyd Mair for her interesting article in the June 29 Enterprise regarding the proposal by Guilderland High School students to eliminate class rank from official grade transcripts. This situation illustrates one of the unforeseen consequences of rampant grade inflation in so many of our schools.

If most students receive “A”s, those grades lose their meaning as a way of assessing academic performance and ability. That is why colleges and universities evaluating applicants for admission rely increasingly upon criteria other than grades: standardized tests like the SATs and letters of recommendation, for example.

These institutions know that high grades are no longer the indicators of superior achievement that they were a few short decades ago.

By eliminating class rank on high school transcripts, of course, colleges will have one less measure at hand for evaluating prospective students. Grade inflation has created a paradoxical situation for young people and for our society.

The liberal awarding of high grades to a majority of students creates an illusion of achievement,perhaps, but not the reality. In my experience, to many “A” students from high school arrive at college unable to write a coherent essay, solve a rudimentary math problem, conduct basic library research, or understand why regurgitating downloaded material from the internet is plagiarism.

No doubt, a generous grade is easier to assign than a realistic one. But what is driving the trend toward inflated grades? What are the long-term consequences?

Grade inflation has few parallels elsewhere in American life. Our capitalist culture is highly competitive, individualistic, and built upon all manner of formalized standards, evaluations, and rankings of performance. Consider licensing exams for real estate brokers, bar exams for attorneys, or medical board exams for physicians, to name a few.

None of these specialists would expect to maintain their professional standing without performing at a high level, Indeed, what employee expects and receives a generous raise for mediocre work?

If education is a preparation for life, what illusory life are inflated grades preparing students for?

Robert Jarvenpa

East Berne

Editor’s note: Robert Jarvenpa is a professor emeritus at the University at Albany; he had chaired its anthropology department.