Saturday, June 11, 2011

Parents Powerless Against Grade Inflation Kryptonite

We received this letter from a reader...

Dear SP-EYE,

Great job on the grade inflation stuff.  Thought you might appreciate this.  

Our child graduated from Sun Prairie several years back.  I recall frequent battles over the quality of work on papers and amount of time spent studying.  Inevitably, our child received darn good grades.  Not stellar, mind you, but in the high B, low A range, with a "C" tossed in here and there.  How does a parent argue with a child when the proof, as they say, is in the pudding?  Every time we begged, pleaded, or threatened disciplinary action for not living up to potential, we got slapped in the face with an "A" paper or test.  Our child is not a genius.  High test scores? Sure. Intelligent?  Absolutely.  But a classic, "I'm only going to perform to the level I need to" kid.

I remember one situation like it was yesterday.  9:00 pm and suddenly our child remembered that a major paper was due the next day.  The paper had not even been started.  The order was given to get cracking.  Barely one hour later, our child came to show that the assignment was complete.  It was two pages long on torn out (and badly at that) notebook paper. And it was written in pencil.  In what was tantamount to chicken scrawl.  He'd checked out a few websites like Wikipedia and simply merged info.  By now you've figured out that our child is a boy.  We told him that his "report" was completely unacceptable.  He rebelled. "Come on!  You guys don't know what the standards are these days.  This will be fine.  In fact, I bet I get an "A".

As hard as it was, you know what we did?  We decided this was the time for a life lesson.  We said, "You know what?  If you think it's good enough, it's good enough for us.  Let's see what the teacher decides."  By now you've probably guessed, and you guessed right.  He received an "A-". 

What did we do next?  We requested a conference with the teacher and an assistant principal.  You know what we got from the district? Basically disbelief.  They asked, "If we understand you correctly, you want us to give your son a lower grade?".  How nice that they missed the point entirely.  "No, we responded, we want you to explain to us how this paper represents "A" work."  As you can imagine, we got nowhere.  Like many parents, we had no idea we could have pushed the issue higher up.  Honestly, we didn't really know there was such a thing as a school board.  You've helped turn that light on.

Later on, however, our son didn't fare so well in college.  Eventually he turned the corner, and is doing well.  Maybe that's why he received high grades for poor quality work.  Maybe the teachers simply graded him on what he was capable of rather than how he actually performed.  I'm not sure it makes it right.  I think that deep down he had the capability and finally chose to flip his switch. 

So, I guess the moral of the story is that there is no point to this.  I just wanted you to know that we agree with you that there is grade inflation in the school district. He didn't deserve many of the grades he got and I wonder if he'd been pushed harder for better quality work, if he would have struggled as hard early on in college.  I know of kids that didn't fare so well.  I know kids who graduated with high honors just shy of a 4.0 that had to change majors in school.  And we're not talking Harvard.  I'm not sure there's an answer, but somehow the discussion needs to be had.

Thanks for listening,

an alumni parent