A Look at Grade Inflation

Amélie Lemay, Staff Writer

As many seniors submit their college applications, questions about grade inflation arise. What is it, and does everyone agree it’s bad?

Let’s begin with what grade inflation is. Grade inflation is usually defined as the rising of grades without a rising quality of work.

It is inarguable that grades at colleges and high schools have risen. In 1970, 31 percent of grades at Princeton were A’s. In 2003, the number had jumped to 47 percent. A study of more than 200 colleges showed that 28 percent more A’s were given in 2012 than in 1960.

In 1991, students who earned a 13 on the ACT had around an average GPA of 2.35. Students who earned a 13 in 2003 had an average GPA of around 2.59.

Grades have risen, so are students working harder or have teachers become more lenient? There are many voices on this issue, and many factors to consider before declaring your thoughts on this matter.

Some say grade inflation makes it difficult for employers to hire truly exceptional people. “Without grade inflation, a truly outstanding student might be awarded an A, while a very good student might receive a B+. With grade inflation, both students receive A’s, making it hard for employers and graduate schools to differentiate them,” writes Sita Slavov of U.S News and World Reports.

Studies show that today’s college students spend less time studying than in the past. In 1961, students spent about 40 hours per week on school work. In 2003, that number had decreased to 23 hours. Some say grade inflation is partly responsible for this because students may presume they don’t have to work as hard for an A.

Others argue that rules that attempt to regulate grade inflation,sometimes called grade deflation, are unfair. In systems in which there is a fixed percentage of students who can earn A’s, Adam Grant writes, “It arbitrarily limits the number of students who can excel. If your forced curve allows for only seven A’s, but 10 students have mastered the material, three of them will be unfairly punished.”

Elizabeth Wissner-Gross writes, “As admission into America’s highest ranked colleges becomes increasingly competitive, admitted students have become increasingly stronger and should be awarded the grades they earn. If more do A work, they all should receive A’s.”

As mentioned earlier, grade inflation is also present in high schools. One study found that grades increased between 1991 and 2003 but not between 2004 and 2011.

The study that measured grade inflation between 1991 and 2003 found that grades were inflated an average of 0.25 of a GPA point.

The data suggests that grade inflation is not increasing further than it already has in high school.

But before getting too concerned about inflated or deflated grades, consider the words of Alfie Kohn: “A focus on grades creates…an extrinsic orientation that is likely to undermine the love of learning we are presumably seeking to promote.”