The start of my daughter’s junior year — and diving head first into the college prep process — is officially here. As I was going through a list of things to start tackling, results from a recent National Association for College Admission Counseling report caught my eye: the most important factor that colleges consider when admitting applicants is grades — specifically in college prep courses.
In an era prone to grade inflation, this can make standing out from the pack to college admissions officers even more of a challenge. There are several factors behind grade inflation. High schools don’t want to appear as though they’re performing poorly in comparison to the competition, so teachers may be encouraged to give out high grades even if they are not fully earned to avoid a larger percentage of failing grades or dropouts. Also, student grades can be factors in evaluations for teachers and principals, enough incentive to inflate grades..
This issue was in the spotlight here in Long Island in 2014 when a New York State Education Department audit uncovered that Hempstead High School routinely and improperly raised students’ grades from failing to passing to boost the district’s graduation rate.
Driving home the pervasiveness of the problem, an upcoming study by Michael Hurwitz, a lead researcher at the College Board, and Jason Lee, a doctoral student at the University of Georgia, shows that nearly half of America’s Class of 2016 were “A” students.
The same study found that while grades in high schools are going up, the average SAT scores have fallen from 1,026 to 1,002 on a 1,600-point scale.
With so many “A” students, it seems as though SAT scores should be rising, not falling. Using high school GPA as “the” guidepost to predict whether a student will thrive academically seems alarmingly misguided.
This caused me to flash back to the Advanced Placement World History exam my daughter took at the end of last year. Although she earned a decent grade in the course, she did not receive the score needed on the standardized test to receive the college credit. So, what does this mean in actually preparing her for college?
When high school grades are inflated, students can end up with a false sense of the amount of effort they need to put into their college schoolwork in order to get good grades. They may be earning high grades for work that does not even meet the basic standards at some colleges.
This can lead to a rough adjustment period at the beginning of college, as students often become discouraged when they find that they can’t get the same results in college classes as they did in high school.
From what I can determine, the best path forward is one that does not focus on becoming too comfortable with the easy “A.” The college admission process should more closely mirror the balance of what students and future graduates need in order to be successful in their chosen profession and in life.