Are high-school grades accurate?

Posted: May 24, 2024

How grade inflation is affecting the current generation of students

In the education system, grades are everything to a student… or are they? They often are used to help others rank your work ethic and mentality. However, these numbers are starting to steer far off from that, and that’s due to what we call grade inflation.

“Grade inflation is essentially schools increasing the grades that they’re giving out that make it look like the students or institution are performing at a higher caliber than they maybe actually are,” Christopher Leppink-Shands, the Assistant Dean of Admissions at Carleton College, told The Talon.

Grade inflation is very, very real. According to a study on, ACT, the nonprofit organization that manages the ACT college readiness exam, recorded that high school seniors’ GPAs had grown between 2010 and 2021 by 0.19 grade points, from 3.17 to 3.36. 

However, causes & levels of grade inflation aren’t based on one simple thing, as grading systems themselves rely on multiple factors.

“Some of these factors include school culture, individual teachers, and especially the COVID [pandemic],” said Christine Paton, a Minnehaha Academy Upper School counselor.

The same ACT article mentioned that because of the coronavirus outbreak, grading policies at some schools became very different to what was used before (and after) it. Some school districts were also laidback with assigning homework, which also brings up the question if GPAs during the pandemic can really be comparable to those before it

.This isn’t just affecting high schools, though. Some colleges are struggling with grade inflation across high schools.

“If colleges can’t really trust that a 4.0 means a 4.0 & that those grades don’t mean anything, they don’t really know how prepared a student is,” said Paton. “That’s also why some of the Ivys went back to using tests; because there’s so much grade inflation. They can’t differentiate these students, so they use standardized tests to see if you’re really capable of doing Ivy level college work.”

Is there any way to stop grade inflation or use it for the better? Even though grade inflation may seem like a doomsday factor for the education system, for some students, their confidence is boosted by their grades. Because of this, grade inflation can help encourage students to continue with their studies, and help them stand proud in their work. 

Paton mentioned that grade inflation could also be fought against by having education standards across schools be more unified. 

“It’s really hard though, because education is governed by each individual state,” she said. “There’s so many factors into what goes into a really good education, but we know that education is paramount to the future of our young people.”

College admissions officers recognize the difficulty in controlling grade inflation.

“IB exams are going to be standardized, though it’s difficult to standardize an entire curriculum across an entire country,” said Leppink-Shands of Carleton. “While I think there are a lot of ways to go about managing this, I think a lot of it just comes down to teacher and professor integrity.”

Grade inflation may affect some colleges too, but they’ve learned to work around it.

“We’re looking at a lot more than just how a student is performing or how a student is being shown to perform,” said Leppink-Shands. “We have a lot of resources at our disposal when it comes to being able to combat that, being able to understand a student as a full person beyond just the grades that they’ve received in high school.”

These colleges work around it by also looking at your other traits, such as recommendations from teachers, extracurricular activities, personal essays, and other things that make you you.

“I think at the end of the day, it’s most important to challenge yourself at the high school or college that you go to,” said Leppink-Shands. “That’s going to benefit you more by taking advantage of that next level of learning rather than taking the easy route in order to get a good grade. Obviously, we want to see you doing well in school, but at the end of the day there’s a lot more that goes into how we get to know our applicants.”

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