What Do Grades Really Mean, Anyway?

Kiersten Hacker, Staff Writer

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Grades, the one word that can cause most students mental breakdowns, endless stress, and pressure heavy enough to form a diamond. As our society advances, receiving a college education is vital to obtain most careers, fostering heightened competition between young students to reach the highest academic status, scores, and schools. But as scandal and fabrication has made its presence known, the question is posed if these grades and numbers are even real. Do these numbers fully capture the true essence of students and all their facets? As the race to be the best becomes increasingly difficult, grade inflation is an important factor in these defining numbers.

As defined by Merriam Webster, grade inflation is the assigning of grades higher than previously assigned for given levels of achievement. Students are receiving grades that are higher than they should be or higher than they have been in the past. When these numbers are used to distinguish students from each other, the unequal system makes it difficult to differentiate properly. Whether this phenomenon is believed or not, elevated grades could be the product of hard work and studying, or extra points, weight, grading leniency, or extensive test prep. Certain scores may be well-deserved while others are higher than the students’ understanding of the material. Grade inflation has now become a prominent issue for college admissions, employers, and the mindset of impressionable students.

Assessments are meant to prove the students have a grasp on the subject matter being taught and have understood it, but assessments are not the only component to a student’s GPA. Homework and classwork grades also factor into an average and those students who may miss a couple assignments, but understand the material, suffer from a lower grade. Alternately, students who may not fully understand the material but have a good memory and have turned in every assignment and done every extra credit project will receive a higher GPA than the student who has better knowledge of the topic. This creates a structure which seems to test how studious a person is rather than how much knowledge they have gained, which calls into question the purpose of our education system. Are we testing memorization? Are we testing organization? Are we testing how much support a student receives? Are we teaching only for a test? Or are we actually assessing the growth of a student through the understanding of topics they’ve gained throughout their education. When the most common grade is now an A, it is evident that the grading system has become flawed in certain aspects, leading to challenging issues for educators and students themselves.

Studies show that grades have been consistently on the rise and continue to rise greater in areas that are more wealthy. Those who can afford test prep books and courses, private tutoring, and have more support may gain an advantage over those who cannot afford the extra help.This puts students at an unfair disadvantage; after all, aren’t all students trying to achieve the same thing, the best education they can get? While marks grow higher in areas of wealth, the emphasis of money becomes more important, but money cannot always buy the best education or the best opportunities. Inflated grades are not always due to wealth, however; it is the sum of uneven grading scales, curves, bonuses, leniency, and a plethora of other tactics both by students and educators to achieve the highest number they can.

Inflation of grades also becomes largely a moral issue in that pupils are pushed to their limits and put under such intense pressure that burns out their being. When a number begins to define someone’s soul, then humanity is lost. As history teacher Mrs. Jen Theo said, “Students care about their grades instead of caring about personal growth that comes from their education. Our education shouldn’t be rooted in ego but in self-betterment, process, and personal evolution.” Driving the future thinkers and innovators down a path where one number defines your being and a failure could end you is not what makes the world function. It is the growth, the ability to learn from mistakes, to apply the knowledge, and to analyze experience to better yourself and better the world around you, not just having a panic attack if a low mark comes your way. That low grade is an opportunity for improvement, not an open door towards the path of giving up. Grades cannot be so defining as it is difficult to assign a number value to someone’s thought process and personal creation. English teacher Mrs. Jennifer Lonidino admitted, “I hate putting a grade on an essay,” as she feels writing is more of a process and cannot be accessed by one end product. There will always be varying viewpoints and versions of work as each student thinks differently, so how can a value be assigned to that? Yes, a scale is needed to distinguish individuals, but it is difficult to find a system that will not be flawed.

Continuing the coddling nature of the current generation, allowing it to be easier to achieve such high grades can alter a student’s work ethic and portray a false idea that achievement in the real world would be easy as well. When such high standards were achieved in school, will the students be able to handle the difficulty of the next level after that, whether it be a prestigious university or institution, job, position, or situation of that nature? Handling school is difficult and the high stakes are straining, but if grades are sometimes handed out, working through a challenge will be a lost trait.

As we progress as a society it is necessary to analyze and rethink systems that have been in place for long periods of time. Humans are ever-changing; therefore the structure of our world will need to be amended. The grading system has lead to inflated grades and chaotic issues follow, but the education system is a process that can be fixed. Grades put students under crushing stress, but in reality they are just numbers. True knowledge and self-growth is the most important form of education.