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.