top of page
  • 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."

180 views7 comments
bottom of page