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3/12/17blog post

the real impact of phony grades

Campuses can be a hazardous environment for our college students, given the alarming rate of sexual assaults, binge drinking, and drug usage. There is yet another risk affecting many of our youth. Rampant grade inflation is having a deleterious impact on our students’ mental health.

Your college students’ grades may no longer be an accurate reflection of their performance. The most common grade obtained in college is an A, assigned over 40 percent of the time. In the 1960s, the most frequently earned grade was a C.

Today’s kids aren’t any smarter. Rather, their professors are weaker. They are afraid of having to argue with you or your students about low scores. It’s easier to avoid the hassles and keep you and your kids happy.

Some teachers have suggested that grade inflation doesn’t matter because they can’t distinguish between high and low performers. If that’s the case, these professors shouldn’t be teaching. Others see no harmful effects in making students feel good by assigning phony grades. Employers and graduate schools have long recognized grade inflation, and use other more objective measures to make their decisions.

Professors fail to realize the harmful consequences on their students’ mental health of providing them with phony feedback. The impact is twofold.

First, some kids graduate from college with an inflated and inaccurate view of their abilities. When they enter the workforce, they expect tasks to come easy and then receive lots of rewards and recognition for their performance. The real world doesn’t work that way. Talent and effort rule. After four years of inaccurate feedback about their mediocre performance, some kids have a tough time dealing with this reality.

Second, grade inflation fails to prepare kids for dealing with rejection and failure. I remember every bad grade I ever received in school. I was smart enough to do better but was occasionally lazy or not conscientious enough to seek help. A professor’s grade gave me harsh and hurtful feedback. I became a better student and person.

Failure can be a gift. We have to figure out how to deal with rejection throughout our lives. We learn to emotionally toughen up, learn from our errors, and develop a sense of perspective. Accurate grading gives us that feedback.

There is lots of discussion about the so-called stress our kids are experiencing. I’d suggest that the amount of stress hasn’t increased, but rather our kids’ resiliency and mental toughness have decreased. Teachers are partly to blame.

College professors, please stop trying to make your students feel good. Their mental health is more important than your popularity. Please give them honest grades.