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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

'A' is for 'awesome,' 'awful' and 'average'

"The most popular high school grade in America" is "A," writes Tim Donahue, who teaches high school English at Greenwich Country Day School in Connecticut, in a New York Times commentary.


"In 2016, 47 percent of high school graduates had A averages, he writes, and grades keep inflating, "most notably since the pandemic, most prominently in higher-income school districts."


Affluent students are competing for selective colleges. If everyone else has an A average, an A- is seen as harsh and unfair.


Students aren't smarter than previous generations, Donahue writes. The average high school GPA rose from 3.27 to 3.28, from 1998 to 2016, "but average SAT scores fell from 1026 to 1002." ACT scores for the class of 2023 were the worst in over three decades.


Standards are lower. It makes students happy, he writes, and it's easier on teachers.

What is an “A,” anyway? Does it mean that a 16 year-old recognizes 96 percent of the allusions in “The Bluest Eye”? Or that she could tell you 95 percent of the reasons the Teapot Dome Scandal was so important? Or, just that she made it to most classes? Does it come from a physics teacher in the Great Smoky Mountains who bludgeons students with weekly, memory-taxing tests, or from a trigonometry teacher in Topeka who works in Taylor Swift references and allows infinite “re-tests”?

More than 80 percent of four-year colleges no longer require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores, Donahue writes. Interviews are less common. Chatbots can write "serviceable responses to essay questions." That makes grades more and more important.


He calls on teachers to push back against the pressure to hand out A's for work that's above average but not as good as it could be with more work. Grades should provide feedback, Donahue writes. "Consider the B-plus."

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7 Comments


Richard Rider
Richard Rider
Nov 02, 2023

Clearly, today school grades are useless as a criteria for college admission. We will NOT change grade inflation. Let's get past that nonsense. The only viable solution is for colleges to mandate objective outside testing -- ACT, SAT, or whatever. But most of today's colleges no longer care if their students can handle "old school" college level work -- and have made such testing optional (a.k.a. useless). Without specific merit criteria, I suspect that -- more and more -- a college liberal arts degree will be even less meaningful than it is today. Of course, trade schools and apprenticeships are more viable options for many -- perhaps MOST -- or our high school "graduates."

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Malcolm Kirkpatrick
Malcolm Kirkpatrick
Oct 25, 2023

We live with a relic of a 180 year-old political miscalculation. In abstract, the education industry is a highly unlikely candidate for rule-bound, bureaucratic State (i.e., government, generally) operation.

We grade students to prove that we're doing our jobs, but what if the job itself is a fraud?

It does not take twelve years at $15,640 per student-year to teach a normal child to read and compute. Most vocational training occurs more effectively on the job than in a classroom.


There are too many "r"s in "revolution". Why not allow any student to take an exit exam (the GED, SAT, GCSE, or GRE will do) at any age and at any time of year and subsidize private-sector employment or post-secondary…


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Guest
Oct 25, 2023

"He calls on teachers to push back against the pressure to hand out A's for work that's above average but not as good as it could be with more work."


This simply puts the students of those teachers at a MASSIVE disadvantage when applying to college. Why would a teacher do this to his/her students?


-Mark Roulo

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Guest
Oct 26, 2023
Replying to

Since the DEFINITION of a given grade varies from teacher to teacher and school to school it isn't like handing out an 'B' when lots of other schools and teachers would hand out an 'A' misleads the colleges.


I get that you feel better about having stricter standards, but I fail to see how this benefits your students when they might have gotten into their preferred college if they had learned the exact same amount and simply had a different teacher.


Seriously, what am I missing?


If there was an agreed upon standard for an 'A' vs a 'B' I'd understand this. If you coach a sports team and are asked the height of one of your players (in bar…


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Richard Rider
Richard Rider
Oct 25, 2023

It looks like the only remaining college admissions criteria is ranking people by their "disadvantage," and then picking the students who are suffering from the biggest obstacles -- real or imagined. Once admitted, the colleges' Prime Directive is to turn all their students into "useful idiots," as Vladimir Lenin used to say. Everyone should come out of college as woke, communist/socialist, easily-offended, virtue-signaling snowflakes who hate America. Why any sane person today gives money to a public college or elite university is a mystery to me.

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