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When “A” stands for adequate

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“A” is supposed to stand for excellence, and parents and students love to see those on a report card. But what does that “A” really mean in terms of student performance?

For first quarter of the 2016-17 school year at Civic Memorial High School, 228 students out of a student body of 757 were on the high honor roll. That’s thirty percent of students who had a GPA of 3.75 or better first quarter. A total of 202 students were on the regular honor roll. The GPA requirement for regular honor roll is a 3.0. So that means that almost 57 percent of CM students are meeting requirements to be on an academic honor roll.

A 3.0 equates with a B average. Standard grading systems dictate that an A is excellent; a B is above average; a C is average; a D is below average; and an F is failing.

So, by that standard, close to 60 percent of the student body is “above average” in academic achievement. CM is not alone in this phenomenon. According to the website www.gradeinflation.com, “the 2007 National Household Education Survey reported a whopping 81% of students receive mostly As and Bs in high school.”

This year, 52 juniors out of 198 qualified academically for induction into National Honor Society, according to Donnell Campbell, the faculty sponsor. The requirement is a 3.75 GPA. Twenty-six percent of the junior class, or about one in four students, has at least a 3.75 GPA.

Some teachers say that grades are inflated because of “completion grades,” or grades given simply for doing an assignment with no standards being assessed. Students are basically being graded not on whether they have a mastered a concept or skill, but on whether they come to school and turn something in or participate in an activity.

Campbell, a speech and English teacher, said that “many grades are given for participation and completion.  The grades sometimes represent a student’s compliance rather than their understanding of the material.”

Social studies teacher Phil Schneider said societal expectations play into those completion grades. “People don’t expect to be evaluated, they expect to be rewarded,” Schneider said. “People expect to complete a task or assignment and receive a generalized reward.”

Some teachers—like biology instructor Frank Graser— think grades are pretty meaningless in the overall scheme of things. “Grades are not indicative of learning,” Graser said. “They don’t really show what kids learn. I would pass/fail everything in high school in place of grades.”

Teachers say that expectations to have grades updated weekly play a role in grade inflation. English 2 teacher Amanda Koch said that having to put in a grade weekly does not work well for English classes, “especially (when the class is working on) essays. It’s like we’re forced to put in 5 or 10 points a day. Like ‘Yay, you wrote today.’ ”

Teachers also say that parental expectations and pressures play into grade inflation.

“I definitely have to put in more grades like (participation or completion grades) in order to give students a chance to get the grade their parents expect to see,” Schneider said.

This system could be setting high school kids up for unrealistic expectations when they enter college.

“Most students would qualify as good students, but not necessarily excellent,” Schneider said. “We created a system where half of the student body expects to get an B or an A with minimal effort. Then the other half expects to pass even with no effort.”

Some educators worry that this is setting high school students up for a rough adjustment when they get to college and learn that just trying is not enough to earn that passing grade.

But higher education has its own battle to fight with grade inflation, and the history of that inflation can be traced back to the Vietnam War. According to the website www.gradeinflation.com, a “C” was the most common grade received by college students prior to the Vietnam War. When the war hit, young men were drafted and sent off to fight in the jungle. That is, unless they received a deferment to attend college. There was one condition: they had to maintain decent grades or “flunk out.” And once they flunked out, they were again eligible for the draft. Researchers speculate that this, along with a shifting attitude among some college professors that grades didn’t really help students learn, caused professors to be more lenient in assigning grades.

While students and faculty may recognize that grades aren’t really representative of true learning or mastery of a concept, experts say it’s unlikely that the grade inflation trend will be reversed anytime soon.

Gradeinflation.com quotes Harvard Professor Harvey Mansfield, who studies grade inflation. Mansfield “ ‘insists that grade inflation persists because ‘parents like it, students like it, the faculty likes it, and the administration loves it.’ ”

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