The Problem With “Academic Inflation”

According to English teacher Tim Donahue, academic inflation is as real as economic inflation. In the 1960s, around 15% of grades given at colleges were “A.” As of 2017, it was nearly 50%. Meanwhile SAT scores fell by 20 points and, by 2023, ACT scores reached the worst scores in three decades.  

This, Donahue says, could explain why “65 percent of Americans feel they are smarter than average.” 

The purpose of grades is to provide feedback, a way humans learn and grow. But in a world where it is assumed that truth is found within, the purpose of grades becomes affirmation for doing the work, not to measure what was learned.  

According to Donahue,  “If everyone gets an A, no one gets an A,” so teachers should “consider the B-plus.” But that won’t do any good unless students are taught that truth exists outside of themselves, can be found, and should be pursued over and above affirmation and self-expression. 

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