Your “A” Student May Still Need Tutoring: The Dangers of Grade Inflation

Every year, colleges and universities across the country welcome a new class of freshmen students. And every year, many of those students struggle, finding college harder than expected. Some will lose their scholarships or drop out altogether. The surprising part of that story? Many of those students made A’s in high school.

While we can and should celebrate our children for making good grades, we have to be careful to assume our A or B students don’t need extra support. Thanks to grade inflation, good grades don’t always reflect true mastery of a subject. In today’s blog, we’re going to explore the grade inflation phenomenon and share three signs that your A or B student might benefit from tutoring.

What is grade inflation, and why is it so common?

Grade inflation is the tendency for teachers to give higher academic grades when the same work would have earned lower grades in the past. Did you know that an A is now the most awarded grade in high school and college? In fact, receiving an A is three times more common now than in 1960. The number of B’s and C’s has decreased drastically, making room for a lot more As. (Interestingly, the number of D’s and F’s given has remained about the same.)

There are several reasons for this phenomenon, including:

  • College Acceptance Standards – High school teachers know that getting into a good college is more competitive than ever. These teachers want their students to succeed, and they don’t want to give grades that could decrease their students’ chances of a scholarship or acceptance.
  • More Capable Students – It’s worth noting that we’re also seeing that the average SAT and ACT score for admitted college students has increased. Some argue that this is a sign that today’s students are simply more capable, leading to higher grades.  
  • Student Selection of Courses – We even see grade inflation in college. Students want to keep their scholarships and do well, so they tend to sign up for classes where they’re more likely to get an A. With websites like Rate My Teacher and Rate My Professor, students can post a rating and review of their teachers. Many college students choose classes and professors based on their tendency to give high marks.
  • COVID-19 – We’ve been talking about the grade inflation phenomenon for a few years, but COVID-19 has only made it worse. Virtual learning has made it much more difficult for teachers to accurately assess each student’s mastery of a topic. Plus, no teacher wants to add extra stress to families who may be struggling with illness, job loss, and isolation. And teachers know that assigning low grades could cause pushback from students, teachers, and even principals. As a result, teachers are far more prone to give out As to students across the board.

What’s the downside to grade inflation?

One downside to grade inflation is that it’s becoming harder for top students to stand out. Several years back, I asked a local guidance counselor at a top-performing public high school in Fairfax County about the issue of grade inflation. He said that at his school’s graduation, they stopped reading the names of students with a 4.0 GPA because over 25% of the graduating class had a 4.0 GPA or higher.

Another downside is that students (especially in college) sometimes avoid more challenging classes that could yield lower grades, such as math, physics, and engineering. This could prevent a student from discovering a hidden talent or passion, causing them to miss out on a career path that would’ve been a perfect fit for them!

As an educator, I’m also concerned about what’s called “the rigor gap.” This is the gap between a school’s evaluation of a student’s level of mastery of a standard compared to their demonstrated mastery of that standard on statewide standardized tests. For example, researchers at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute found that 36 percent of Algebra I students in North Carolina who scored a “B” in the classroom did not pass the state’s corresponding EOC. Referenced in Figure 3.

This discrepancy is partly because students with inflated grades don’t know they need to study. One study in 2021 found that students studied 50% less when they expected teachers to award higher grades. On the other hand, researchers have found that when teachers have higher grading standards, students tend to learn more and perform higher two years later.

It’s worth noting that these studies were all done before COVID-19. As we mentioned before, the problem has only gotten worse in the past year. For example, the Arlington School System told teachers that they could boost a student by a full letter grade if the student could submit “artifacts of their learning that would demonstrate proficiency with concepts that they were unable to demonstrate earlier in the school year.”

One of the biggest risks of grade inflation is that students with freely given A’s don’t know what they don’t know. They could enter the next grade or college completely unprepared. In every grade, from elementary to high school, the subjects build on the standards from the year before. If your child hasn’t truly mastered this year’s material, he or she could find future grades much, much harder.

3 Signs Your A Student Needs Tutoring

If your child’s grade isn’t always reliable, how can you know your child needs help? Here are three signs your A or B student may need tutoring support.

  1. Your child struggles to study independently, stay organized, and turn assignments in on time. If you never see your child studying or doing homework, but they’re getting good grades, there may be some grade inflation going on. Tutoring can be a great way to ensure (a) they master the standards they’ll need for future classes and (b) they learn executive functioning skills like organization and task management. Those skills will become all the more critical as we move towards in-person school in the fall.
  2. Your child avoids or is frustrated by key subjects. Does your child get As and Bs but hate doing their math homework? Or avoid writing English papers until the night before they’re due? If so, tutoring can provide a way to build confidence in key subjects. Struggling in a core subject for even one year can harm your child in the long run because material and concepts build upon each other. Each year becomes more challenging, so if your child is overwhelmed by a subject now, the problem will only grow with each new year.
  3. Your child’s test scores don’t match their final grade. One common method of grade inflation is buoying poor test scores by weighing smaller assignments more heavily. Regularly scheduled tests are the best indicator of your child’s mastery of a subject. If your child is getting an A or B in a class but not on tests, there’s a good chance that other assignments outweigh the test scores, and your child may benefit from some tutoring support.

Do you remember when the general public opinion of counseling was that it was only for people facing a significant trauma or trial? Now, most people acknowledge that nearly everyone can benefit from a good counselor, even if they’re not in the midst of a divorce or mental health crisis.

It’s helpful to think of tutoring in the same way. Tutoring isn’t only for students in danger of failing a grade. Nearly every student can benefit from individualized support outside the classroom. And in a world where an A or B doesn’t mean you’ve necessarily mastered the material, it’s all the more important for parents to dig deeper and make sure their children are on track and prepared for the next grade, whether they are in 1st grade, 12th grade, or any in-between.

Know someone whose child may have these good grades, but is struggling with missing assignments? Share this blog with them so they can learn more about what their child is experiencing and how we are here to help.

Start with a Free Consultation

If you’re wondering whether your student could benefit from extra support from a subject tutor or executive functioning coach, take the first step today by scheduling a free consultation. 

Simply click here to schedule a time that works for you to speak with one of our specialists. We’re here to help you look past the letter grades and achieve peace of mind, knowing your child is genuinely prepared for next year—and beyond.

Flummoxed by Failure — Or Focused?

I’ve always been fascinated by what motivates students.  As a teacher, my most challenging students weren’t those who had a hard time learning the concepts; they were the kids that gave up too easily.  And often times, when students give up they lose focus and motivation.  Many of these students think they’re simply not smart and that no matter what they do, they won’t be an A or B student.  They often have an “I don’t care” or “Why bother?” attitude.

As parents, seeing this struggle in our children is hard to take.  If you have a child who has a low frustration tolerance or is easy to give up, check out this article on learning, the brain, and intelligence.  I ran across it yesterday while reading the Wall Street Journal and immediately knew I wanted to share it with you!

But don’t stop there, share the article “You Can Grow Your Intelligence” with your child.  Psychologists at Stanford and Columbia found that when they used this article to teach a growth mind-set to 7th graders struggling in math, the students showed greater motivation in math class.  Have a comment?  Post it below or send an email.

Ann Dolin – [email protected]

Brain Change: Why Our Kids Are More Inattentive Than Ever (View this video!)

Today, I appeared on News Channel 8’s Let’s Talk Live discussing how technology is impacting this generation of students.  Scientists are just beginning to study brain changes by looking at MRIs to determine if constant texting, facebooking, tweeting (you name it!) is changing brains.  Don’t panic; the news is mostly good.  Take a look at this short video for some highlights.

During the segment, Melanie Hastings and I also talked about the lure of technology.  Because of so many distractions, this generation of kids is more distracted than ever, and it’s not by school work.  The class of 2011 had the lowest SAT critical reading score (497)ever recorded.  Some say it’s because of diversity with more and more kids from all backgrounds taking the test, but I wonder if it’s not more than that.  If only the reading portion dropped to it’s lowest levels ever, wouldn’t that point to the fact that our kids aren’t reading for pleasure?  Studies show that only about half read for pleasure.

More on how we can help our kids focus in my next blog post…

Ann Dolin

iGeneration Learning: How Technology Rewires Brains and Teaching Strategies

For the last three days, I’ve been attending the Learning and the Brain Conference sponsored by Johns Hopkins University.  Almost one thousand individuals in education-related fields from all over the country have come to Crystal City to learn about the latest brain research from the world’s leading neuroscientists and psychologists.  This year’s conference title, “Web-Connected Minds: How Technology Transforms Brains, Teaching and Attention”, is of tremendous interest to me as an educator and more so as a parent.  I have questions like:

“Are our kids’ brains different because of their attachment to technology?”

“What are the long-term effects of technology on our kids?”

“Is technology causing our kids to have shorter attention spans?”

The bottom line is that neuroscientists have just begun to study the long-term effects of iPads, iPods, texting, Facebook, YouTube, video games and basically anything with a screen.  Through my next few blog postings, I hope to consolidate some of the newest research from this conference.

The first keynote I attended on Friday was given by Larry Rosen, PhD, from California State University.  Here are some of the basic take-aways from his talk:

  • Although our brain only weighs two pounds, it uses 25% of our energy.  It’s a myth that we use only 10% of our brain.
  • Functional MRIs (performing a task during an MRI) have found that thinking about something actually activates more (and different) parts of the brain than hearing, speaking, and seeing.
  • Our kids are thinking all day long…about technology.
  • There are two types of distractors during learning: internal and external.
  • Thinking is an internal distraction.  Kids may be contemplating, “I wonder if anyone “liked” the photo of me water skiing.”  A common internal distractor is Facebook.  In fact, every one out of five page views on the internet is of Facebook.  More on external distractors later.
  • Rosen says our kids are suffering from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).  When they don’t have their phone in hand, they are panicked that they’re missing out on something important.  Yet when we take their technology away, it actually creates more anxiety.  When kids are in FOMO mode, they are not fully available for learning.
  • Solution?  Tech breaks.  Allow your child to have his or her phone during homework.  It can be on the table, just turned over (out of sight, out of mind does not apply to this generation when it comes their phones).  Students should work for 15 minutes, and then take a one-minute tech break.  This one-minute break greatly relieves anxiety and kids are better able to focus.
  • There is no such thing as multi-tasking.  The brain actually quickly shifts from one task to another.  When kids are doing many things at once such as texting, looking at Facebook on their laptop, and reading a text book, they are not doing any one thing accurately.
  • When they are working on many things at once, including homework, they prolong the amount of time they must spend on their assignments.
  • This makes sense to us as adults, but studies show kids think they can work just as efficiently in this manner.  A good solution is a tech break.

In addition, Dr. Rosen described characteristics of the iGeneration (born 1990-1999).  They:

  • Are more liberal.
  • Are more idealistic.
  • Are more socially connected.  Their #1 vehicle is Facebook.
  • Think have a strong desire to be entrepreneurs and believe they can succeed.
  • Have a strong work ethic when they can focus.  The problem is that they cannot focus well because of so many distractors inherent in their environment.

More on technology’s impact on focus and attention in my next blog from the Learning and the Brain Conference.

 

I’d love to hear your comments or questions!  Please post below.

Ann Dolin, M.Ed. — President — EC Tutoring

 

Place Praise on Kids’ Effort

Ann was recently featured in a “Parent to Parent” article by Betsy Flagler of The Buffalo News. We’ve posted the article below – let us know your thoughts!

Some kids expect kudos every time they turn around. But general praise for their brains, beauty or brawn can backfire. Instead, get specific about your child’s effort.

Use praise that hones in on how well your child perseveres, suggests Ann K. Dolin, a former teacher and president of a tutoring company based in Virginia. When words are too general, children discount their parents’ good intentions as insincere.

Praising children for effort rather than intelligence gives them more motivation to keep trying, says Dolin, author of “Homework Made Simple” (Advantage Books, 2010). Her suggestions include:

• Replace “great job” with, “I like the way you kept trying even when the problems became harder.”

• Replace “I’m proud of you” with, “You went back to check your work. That extra step paid off.”

• Replace “You got an A” with, “Those extra practice problems you did really made a difference.”

Studies at Columbia University have shown that kids praised for being talented don’t fare as well as kids who are praised for being hard workers. Students praised only for their intelligence and natural strengths can eventually lose confidence in their abilities.

Here are some suggestions from Mary Jo Rapini, counselor and coauthor of “Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever” (Bayou Publishing, 2008), about how to get beyond “good job.”

• Be careful praising your child for what comes naturally. If you dole out praise for high math grades that come easily, your child may be less willing to try more difficult challenges.

• Be careful praising your child for what he already loves to do. This can lead to a kid thinking he has to be passionate about something in order to be good at it.

• Using comparisons will backfire. Telling your child that she is better, stronger or more attractive than someone else fosters a competitive, win-or-lose mindset. Teaching your children to understand others and be polite is more highly correlated to their future happiness and success than promoting competition.

• Praising your child’s attractiveness should be done with caution. Encouragement and modest praise when your child is frustrated while learning a skill, for example, will help build your child’s selfesteem much more than telling her how pretty she is.

• When praising, keep in mind the child’s age and developmental level. A toddler will need encouragement more often, but a teenager may feel manipulated by your comments.

There are also pitfalls when it comes to praising children’s artwork, according to the North Carolina State University Extension Service. Well-intentioned comments such as “that’s a beautiful house” can lead to these common misunderstandings:

• Children may expect praise every time they create something.

• Children may stop forming their own opinions of their artwork and look to their teachers for feedback.

• Children may stop being creative and start creating what they think their teachers will like.

The best way to give children feedback is to praise their effort using descriptions instead of applauding the product they actually created. Help children recognize how hard they worked—at mixing colors of paint, gluing down leaves, cutting out strips of paper—and encourage them to be proud of their own accomplishments without seeking an adult nod of approval.