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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Disarming grades

"Handwringing" about grade inflation is "inflated," suggests Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post. She offers a piece by Jack Schneider and Ethan Hutt, authors of the 2023 book Off the Mark: How Grades, Ratings and Rankings Undermine Learning (But Don’t Have To).

They question whether grades motivate lower-achieving students. As bad grades pile up, "future prospects can begin to look quite grim," they write. Grades can "function more like a weapon than a tool."

Someone who lacks academic competence, work habits and motivation does indeed have grim prospects, but . . . Are grades the problem here?

By the way, I note that they consider a "C" to be a low grade that could hurt a student's "lifetime opportunities." I guess it no longer means "average" or "satisfactory."

Schneider and Hutt concede that grade inflation makes it hard to "communicate about the quality of student work." When everybody has an "A," colleges "make decisions based on other factors, such as school prestige, which correlate more strongly with race and family income."

Their suggestion is to allow students to "overwrite" low marks by retaking assessments "as they acquire new knowledge and skills."

A student who gets a "D" in ninth-grade English might achieve "C" or "B" skills at the end of 10th or 11th or 12th grade, since they're still taking English classes. But what about biology or math or U.S. history? It doesn't seem likely.

They also propose making transcripts “double clickable.” The high-tech diploma would show "not only the grade but also examples of student work." This adds a lot of work for teachers. Will anyone double click? Maybe admissions staffers at well-funded private colleges.

Standardized testing is the obvious and efficient way to distinguish between all those "A" students. I think it's a lot fairer than assuming that a 4.0 from a private or affluent suburban school is better than a 4.0 from an urban or rural high school.

Grade inflation is giving parents a "false sense of security," writes Caitlynn Peetz on Education Week. "Parents are more likely to engage in their children’s academics if they know that they’re struggling," she writes. If they see A, B and C grades, they "aren’t likely to worry about their children’s progress and could miss critical opportunities to support or advocate for them."

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