American high schools are giving out higher and higher grades even as real academic ability stagnates. USA Today reports:
Recent findings show that the proportion of high school seniors graduating with an A average — that includes an A-minus or A-plus — has grown sharply over the past generation, even as average SAT scores have fallen.
In 1998, it was 38.9%. By last year, it had grown to 47%.
That’s right: Nearly half of America’s Class of 2016 are A students. Meanwhile, their average SAT score fell from 1,026 to 1,002 on a 1,600-point scale — suggesting that those A’s on report cards might be fool’s gold.
The erosion of intellectual standards is worse at the elite level: “the upward creep is most pronounced in schools with large numbers of white, wealthy students. And its especially noticeable in private schools, where the rate of inflation was about three times higher than in public schools.” This is probably explained at least partly by the attitudes of overbearing parents whose children are in the Ivy League rat race: Giving out anything less than an A is likely to lead to email protestations and parent-teacher conferences with mom and dad.
It’s also significant that even as high school grades become less and less meaningful, pressure is building in the educational establishment to de-emphasize or dumb down alternate measures of achievement, like the SAT, which are supposedly unfair to the poor and disadvantaged, and class rankings, which create too much rancor and competition. In the long run, though, this will only help boost the fortunes of elite students even further: Without a strong objective component in the college admissions process, quickly-inflating GPAs will help rich students roll their competitors from below.