OK, OK, I know it’s the middle of summer and the last thing on anyone’s mind is the thought of classrooms, but a just-released study highlights what I’ve long suspected.
For too long, and in too many ways, we’ve been telling our children that they’re so special, so meritorious, that any effort, however minimal, will be rewarded. Anyone who has lived more than a couple of decades, however, knows this to be a dangerous delusion. A real job in a real company in the real world will soon disabuse even the most talented youth of his preciousness.
Yet we continue to cocoon our kids with misplaced compliments and rescue them from the consequences they deserve. Here’s the latest: Almost half of all high schoolers, 47 percent to be precise, are graduating with an A average. Back in 1998, 38.9 percent did. You might think the students are getting smarter, right? Not necessarily. The rise in average GPAs comes at the same time that SAT scores have fallen. The average SAT slipped from 1,026 to 1,002 on a 1,600 point scale. In contrast the average GPA rose from 3.27 to 3.38.
For this next doozy, you might want to hold on to your No.2 pencil and composition notebook — or for the hyper-connected, your iPad: More students now get A’s than any other grade. Sadly, what was once the top of the mountain for the studious is now as common as a smartphone.
Of course, we would like to think that the spreading of pixie grade dust and the prevalence of standardized testing as early as kindergarten has made everyone hit the books more assiduously. But researchers Michael Hurwitz of The College Board and Jason Lee of the University of Georgia strongly discount this theory.
For some reason, perhaps the pressure from parents, perhaps the pressure from bosses, teachers are grading more leniently, and nowhere is this more apparent than in wealthier, white schools and in private schools. Data show that grade inflation was three times more prevalent in private schools than in public schools, proof that not all A’s are created equal. Apparently money can guarantee a stamp of approval, if not necessarily exceptional work.
Historically, the best predictors of college success are “a combination of high school GPA and SAT scores, but one of the things we’ve been noticing is that high school GPAs are drifting up, and up, and up,” Hurwitz told CBS News. As a result college admissions officers are finding it more difficult to figure out the quality of a student’s transcript as more students “earn” the same high GPA.
Grade inflation is neither new nor limited to high school, of course. In college, the most popular grade is now an A and it’s handed out three times more frequently than it was in 1960, according to a former Duke University scholar and founder of GradeInflation.com. This ridiculous trend dovetails with another of my pet peeves: participatory trophies. Awarding cheap hardware for simply showing up undercuts the merits of diligence, discipline and drive, necessary elements of success. What’s more, an exaggerated sense of self-esteem will secure few appreciative colleagues but plenty of scorn.
One of the best things we can do for our children is to instill in them a healthy work ethic. Talent is good and brains better, but most of us have little control of either. Effort and a nose-to-the-grindstone attitude, on the other hand, are readily available to everybody.
You don’t need a straight-A report card to understand that you have to do more than warm the seat to get ahead. You gotta hustle.