Fingers tremble and your heart beats faster as you feverishly check PowerSchool for the tenth time.Finally, you can see the grade of your latest test: B-. Your gut reaction? Crippling disappointment. But why? A B is good, right between an A for mastery and C for average… that’s the normal grade scale, right? Why should […]
Fingers tremble and your heart beats faster as you feverishly check PowerSchool for the tenth time.Finally, you can see the grade of your latest test: B-. Your gut reaction? Crippling disappointment. But why? A B is good, right between an A for mastery and C for average… that’s the normal grade scale, right? Why should students feel unhappy with even with grades that are “above average”.
I went and talked to some of my classmates to see how they feel about grades and competition.
Jeremy Fernandez’s (’18) views were pretty similar to the common conception of letter grades, but with a few subtle differences.
“I feel an A represents mastery of the subject where as B represents a mere understanding of the subject and C means that you need assistance,” he explains.
This viewpoint represents two things: a high standard associated with the top letter grade and a C as somewhat of a disappointment. Bringing up the subject with Zach Lau (’18) resulted in a much blunter response.
“A is good. B is bad. C is cry,” he jokingly tells me. Despite his light tone, there are is some truth to his statement. For students with high standards in a competitive academic atmosphere, even coming close to average is a disappointment.
So if many student are unsatisfied with feeling average, how do teachers feel about grades? I went to Mr. English to find out.
“A in my mind would be mastering the material,” he tells me. “B is you understand the material and apply it in a variety of ways. A C student has the information, not all of it but enough.”
This pretty much lines up with what I’ve always been told about what grades represent. But if this is how teachers feel, why do students view things differently? As usual, Mr. English has the answer: “With AP courses and the Ivy program, a B or a C is really considered to be a tragedy because ‘gosh, I’m just average.’”
College competition and the intense competitive atmosphere of high level classes places a lot of pressure on student to excel. As Mr. English candidly points out, “We live in an age of high expectations and right along with that is grade inflation.”
Grade inflation helps relieve some of the pressures on students by making it easier to achieve top grades, but it’s also a major part of the problem. Maybe it helps fulfill those high expectations Mr. English mentioned, but it also raises the bar. So what’s the solution? According to Mr. English, this is a difficult question to answer.
“We have to follow and work with the the guidelines that UC and CSU put out there”, he reminds me. “They’re in the driver’s chair really.”
If colleges don’t kickstart the process, it’s very difficult for college prep schools like Christian Brothers High School to facilitate change. On top of that, a competitive atmosphere has many positive aspects.
“It does cause, not all, but many students to work harder than they probably would have worked”, says Mr. English. This is great for students who need that extra bit of motivation.
“Grade inflation keeps us competitive” Zach says, while Jeremy informs me that he “considers [his] closest friends [his] best competitions”. For many students, classes, and schools as a whole, this competition is crucial for the best possible learning and academics.
Without a clear solution or even definitive problem, what are the steps we can take? In theory, the answer should be simple as this advice from Mr. English.
“If a kid is working really hard and they get [a “C”] they should be proud.”
Easy to say, but an extremely difficult approach to adapt, particularly in today’s academic environment. Still, this addresses the root of the problem: hard work should determine feelings of success, not a letters or numbers. Really, the issue of grade inflation is often a situational problem and one best solved on an individual level. Some students need the raised expectations of grade inflation to push them, while others struggle under the belief that their hard work has not payed off. So which interpretation of grades is correct? Neither. Your own is what matters.