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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

ACT: Pandemic fueled grade inflation

“The findings echo a recent federal study that also showed signs of grade inflation,” writes Sarah D. Sparks in Education Week.

The average GPA (grade point average) has been rising since 2010, reports Edgar Sanchez, a senior research scientist at ACT. Test scores have not. The gap began increasing significantly in 2018, before the pandemic.

Grades rose faster for girls and for Black students, ACT reported. Low to moderate achievers gained the most, however, “grade inflation also increased faster for schools where 75 percent or more of the students were white or Asian-American,” writes Sparks.

“Grade inflation is real, it is widespread, and it weakens the value of student transcripts as a single measure of what students know and are able do,” said ACT CEO Janet Godwin. “The study shows that grade inflation is a persistent, systemic problem, common across classrooms, districts, and states.”

With colleges and universities increasingly going test optional or test blind, admissions officers are relying more heavily on high school grades. ACT is motivated to show that GPA is an unreliable measure of college readiness.

But the ACT report echoes an Education Department study of the class of ’19, notes Sparks.  It found students earned higher grades in more challenging classes (or classes with “advanced” in the title), while math and reading scores fell on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

While most seniors enroll in college, “little more than 1 in 3 high school seniors who took the test in 2019 performed well enough in math and reading to be considered ready to start college with nonremedial courses,” Sparks writes.

Some districts are linking grades to mastery of standards writes Linda Jacobson on The 74. Students don’t get extra credit for attendance, turning in work on time or other non-academic factors.

The 3,000-student Pewaukee School District in Wisconsin, outside Milwaukee, implemented such a model in 2015. Students are graded on a one-to-four system, with one representing below expectations and four indicating advanced performance.

“We didn’t want students’ grades dependent on whether they brought in a box of Kleenex,” said Danielle Bosanec, chief academic officer for the Pewaukee School District outside Milwaukee, which adopted standards-based grading in 2015.

Parents bought into the plan because it allows students more than one chance at a passing grade on an assignment or test so long as they can demonstrate the additional work they did after their first try. The district agreed to convert final scores into letter grades for transcripts. Bosanec also conducted her own research to test the connection between the new grading model and ACT scores. In general, she found that in a standards-based model, “as students’ grades go up or down, the impact on ACT scores follows suit.”

Grade inflation probably isn’t a big deal, writes Stephen Noonoo on EdSurge.

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