Grade Inflation Is Ruining Education

Grade Inflation Is Ruining Education. By Greg Trotter.

In a decade working in high schools, I’ve seen a consistent push to reduce writing, reading, and note-taking, expand late work windows, lighten workloads, dilute the weight of assessments, and, most fundamentally, to eliminate failures. The same can be seen at the university level.

The amount of time college students have spent on academic work has gone from 40 hours per week in 1961, to 27 in 2003, to less than 15 hours in 2008. During that time, the average grade has risen in both public and private universities, while national SAT scores continue to decline. Today’s graduates are not smarter or more prepared for their future, but at least they think they are.

The roots of these trends can be found in generations of self-esteem culture and a gradual educational shift from a standards-driven approach to one of customer service. …

Our schools became more concerned with perception and appeasement than learning. School, in the eyes of parents and educators alike, became something to game — the lessons taught an arbitrary ritual that stood between students and the diploma they needed. …

When the grades stop reflecting mastery, the entire operation becomes performative.  …

The damage done is horrific:

Thus, education devolves into a lot of activity for the sake of activity, with little recognition for what skills truly matter or for the ability of education to improve lives. …

The point of assigning grades is to give feedback — to reflect reality. When grades are distorted, they stop delivering feedback that would help teachers to accurately assess what was learned, students to accurately determine how well they are learning and prompt greater effort, and the entire system to adapt to the needs of students.

This is especially the case among low-achieving students who are often passed through high school without developing the ability to write intelligible emails or to do basic addition. I’m constantly amazed by how many high-school athletes I train who simply cannot add weight totals in their head. …

So many students sit in algebra classes, lacking a grasp of basic arithmetic. We put students in positions where we know they won’t learn anything and, in the process, make a mockery of the entire system. …

The only reason you would need a high-school diploma for low-skill jobs is because we have made it nearly impossible not to graduate. You don’t have to do anything but show up and occasionally turn something in. Not graduating is now the ultimate red flag.

Likewise, we tell every student they need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to get a college diploma and then many go wait tables. By inflating grades across the board, we’ve created an insane labyrinth of debt where employers look for candidates with an unrelated college diploma, because it signals they’ve done more than waltz through high school. Our cultural expectations grow increasingly insane as the distance grows between reality and our social indicators. …

Go back to what worked:

I have a radical idea. Assign grades based exclusively on academic performance — the quality of the writing, the accuracy of the math equation, the understanding of the historical themes. Grade everything for mastery, alone, and consider it a breach of ethics to do otherwise. Most students would work far harder, learn far more, and come to enjoy it.

The root cause is an error caused by political correctness.

In the early to mid 1900s, sociologists noted strong correlations between good outcomes and more education — more educated people commit fewer crimes, earn more money, have better health, and so on. Therefore, said government, we need more education for as many people as possible.

That has been duly accomplished. Now the percentage of students who finish high school is nearly 100%, and high school students who go on to higher education has risen from about 10% in 1960 to over 50% now. That’s the sort of progress bureaucrats can measure and congratulate themselves on.

But the universities had to be dumbed down to pass the influx of less able students. Hence the grade inflation and so on that is destroying higher education. Smart students, who once would have had to work hard to get through university, now often loaf and party because the university dumbs itself down so that middling students who work hard can just pass. The overall effect is to make society less educated and less able.

Politically correct bureaucrats and governments assume all this makes better citizens — earn more, fewer crimes, better health etc. Wrong, obviously.

The correlations spotted by the sociologists are strong and exist alright, but the correlations between those same good outcomes (warning! non PC material coming up) and IQ are even stronger. Also, the correlation between higher IQ and more education is strong. Clearly, the cause of the better statistical outcomes was higher IQs, not more education. A classic case of “correlation is not causation.” The sociologists probably knew that, but were forbidden by political correctness from saying it (or, in some cases, even thinking it)

So we have damaged our higher education system and wasted years of so many young lives, all in vain. Is there nothing political correctness cannot turn to crap?