The Magical Land Where Everyone Is Above Average

The proportion of high school seniors graduating with an A average has grown sharply over the past generation, even as SAT scores have fallen, reports USA Today.

In 1998, 38.9% of seniors graduated with an A average. By last year, the percentage had grown to 47%. Over the same period, average SAT scores fell from 1,026 to 1,002.

The USA Today article is based on research by Michael Hurwitz of the College Board and Jason Lee, a doctoral student at the University of Georgia’s Institute of Higher Education.

Writes US Today: “The upward creep is most pronounced in schools with large numbers of white, wealthy students. And its especially noticeable in private schools, where the rate of inflation was about three times higher than in public schools.”

We’re not getting smarter — we just think we are.

Is anyone curious how the numbers play out in Virginia? I sure am.

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5 responses to “The Magical Land Where Everyone Is Above Average”

  1. Yes, it sounds like Lake Wobegon. If you look at the numbers for college admissions, it appears standards are getting higher at selective institutions. But when I see data like this, it makes me wonder. As I recall, there also used to be one valedictorian and one salutatorian. Now I see schools that have multiple ones. And it used to be that class rank was provided for most students, but now it is well below 50% in many states. All of this is probably symptomatic of parents and administrators wanting to improve admissions chances vs schools that don’t have these tactics.

    And average GPAs in college are quite high, particularly at selective schools. Parents don’t want their children to go to a school that costs a couple hundred grand and have bad grades that hold them back.

  2. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    What is now happening with elite private secondary education and our very best public high schools is precisely what has happened with our elite institutions of higher education, a race for status and money that corrupts the very foundations of our best educational institutions themselves.

    In particular, these high schools are increasingly committing intentional fraud by grade inflation that lowers academic standards covertly and thus undermines the quality of their teaching and the standards of learning and educational performance in their schools in order to artificially pump up their performance numbers by getting more and more of their graduates into elite colleges, so they can charge parents ever higher intuitions, and attract ever brighter kids with ever wealthier parents.


    Like elite universities, elite high schools are now in a competitive race with their peers for ever higher rankings based on ever higher placement of ever larger numbers of students in ever higher ranked universities.


    Because affluent parents demand these inflated grades, and an array of bogus achievements claims by students in high school that elite colleges demand, and brag about as requisites of admission. Harvard, it’s said, does not consider any kid without that kids excellent achievements in at least 11 activities outside the classroom during high school. This is kind of an inside joke. And it’s part of a vicious circle of corruption and fraud going round and round ever faster, within our education system.

    And so affluent parents not only demand bogus student performance abetted and participated in by elite schools, they will pay very large sums of money to get what they demand from such schools. Indeed growing numbers of Affluent parents will move heaven and earth to get their kids into Harvard instead of Boston College or heaven forbid the University of Maryland after paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for a private secondary school education.

    We are not there yet, and there are many exceptions, but this is where we are headed folks, and fast. Thus, recent articles describe how elites schools are actively banning together to maintain and facilitate their status within cooperative agreements akin to major power arm’s control agreements.

    And by the way, this is one reason why you cannot trust the elite university that brags about its retention rates of undergraduate students. Those figures are bogus. Grade inflation, pampering, and pleading, insure the highest retention numbers possible. This too is spreading to elite high schools.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: parents and grade inflation.

    Parents want their kids to go to college and they wan their kids to have a good “grade” portfolio… and so they WANT and support the grade inflation.

    And they also don’t want their kids taking the more robust courses that might risk a bad grade so more and more kids are lacking Freshmen level competence in even core math and literacy… critical thinking.. and the like.

    It’s well documented in standardized testing.. international standards like PISA where US students rank 25th or lower in language, math and science.

    Yet there is a movement against testing..against standards… and private and voucher schools are actually in favor less testing.. and less transparency into academic performance.

    We blame Government – and the Institutions now days… it’s somebody else’s fault.. “faceless bureaucrats” .. overpaid administrators… “bad” teachers… not the poor affluent parents trying to get their offspring into College!

  4. DLunsford Avatar

    Another point to consider in the context of high school grade inflation is the explosion of so-called Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Factoring these into the mix is how kids wind-up with GPAs in excess of 4.0. They are touted as college prep and a way for kids to place-out of certain college courses. And the administrators love them because of the prestige factor. But from what I saw with my own kids and their peers, A’s and B’s in these so-called “college level” high school courses rarely lead to the AP test scores that actually qualify them for college credit. And the testing is not cheap nor does every college accept the credits My advice to parents with motivated students would be to enroll them in the local community college as high school juniors and seniors and have them take whatever 101-level courses that fit their day schedules. Or as a substitute for a summer job. Assuming they pass, that would give them “real” transferable credit (at least to state schools) worth their weight in gold compared to the uncertainties of the high school-AP profit machine.

  5. […] estimable Jim Bacon the other day raised the question whether Virginia’s increasing graduation rates might be related to grade […]

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