To obtain a state-funded Academic Challenge college scholarship, all students need to have a 2.5 GPA or score a 19 on the ACT. Unless you’re from a “grade-inflated school” where, in that case, you would have to do both. Admittedly, neither is a very high bar, but making some kids clear both hurdles does raise questions.
It’s not their fault that they’re from a school that didn’t teach them very much. On the other hand, scholarships are like a track meet. The prize goes to the fastest runners, no matter what kind of school they came from.
Last week, Arkansas’ Commissioner of Education was asked why we have “grade-inflated schools.” In my opinion, he could have answered the question more clearly. I was a classroom teacher for 11 years—five of it in a school that is on the list of grade inflated schools, and six years at Pulaski Academy, a place where grades are not inflated. For what it is worth, here’s my answer as to how schools end up inflating grades.
No school sets out to inflate grades. It happens because classroom teachers almost always end up teaching to the mid-range of the ability levels of their students. Otherwise, almost everyone fails or almost everyone get an A. Either way, the teacher can lose his or her job. Just ask any teacher who failed three-fourths of their class trying to teach it at the level it should be.
Everyone knows that students from two-parent households usually make better grades than other students. It’s not so much the kid’s fault, but that’s the way it is. In addition, the more the parents value education the better a child does in school. That’s why the children of college-educated parents tend to do better in school. While there are exceptions, these generally hold true across the board.
So, who is to blame for grade inflation? First of all, parents are to blame, because they’re not taking enough interest in their child’s education. After all it is their responsibility to ensure that their child is educated, not the school or the government. Too many parents want to feed their kids some Pop Tarts, put them on a school bus and forget about them. Second, it is the responsibility of the school for not setting high enough standards, especially in the lower grades, for students to learn enough to pass higher-level courses in high school. A senior who reads on third-grade level won’t pass much of anything in high school. Someone should have taught him or her to read before they were passed on to the next grade.
Faced with keeping the same bunch of rowdy underachievers in 10th grade again, many teachers lower the standards enough to pass those kids on to the next grade. Ask any teacher, and they’ll tell you it happens a lot. Even in schools where most kids behave themselves, faced with a lynch-mob mentality from the parents, most teachers simply adjust their teaching so their grades look more like the classic bell-curve, even if it means not teaching very much. Either way, schools end up with kids who haven’t learned much and who don’t score well on standardized tests like the ACT.
All this is not to say that these students can’t be successful in life. But those who graduate from “grade-inflated schools” have a much harder time passing their first year of college. If they do eventually graduate college, they will have had to spend much of their college years playing catch-up just to pull even with kids who learned a lot more back in 6th and 7th grade.
It may not serve much of a purpose for me to identify the cause of grade inflation without offering a solution, but that’s my view—for what it is worth.