October: Skewed perception of grades shapes academic environment

Nearly 50 percent of students in each grade level received an Honor Roll-Award of Excellence last year. The average grade point average of the current senior class is 93.62, which is less than a point lower than an “excellent” grade—equivalent to an A in previous years. Although one may say these numbers suggest grade inflation, the main concern among students is not that average grades are too high, but that their grades are compressed in a narrow range. This seems to be a problem because intuitively, it would be more difficult to accurately rank students when their grades only differ slightly.
Though students’ concerns are valid, it is important to note that minor differences in grades will not impact them significantly. Considering the inevitably subjective nature of grading and the varying standards among classes at SIS, the school cannot provide a completely accurate list of students based on their achievement. While students may find this fact upsetting, what they often fail to realize is that grades do not exist just for the purpose of ranking.
In reality, colleges receive a report of students’ grades as a percentile ranking in the class and a school report so that students are evaluated in the context of the school. Furthermore, grades are not the single most important aspect that colleges evaluate prospective students on. Cumulative GPA is only one of the multiple parts of an application, which also includes teacher recommendations, student essays, activities and standardized test scores. In other words, GPA does matter in the admissions process, but it is not everything. Besides, the artificial reduction of grades would not impact the way students are presented to colleges because it would bring all students’ grades down, without significantly altering class rankings.
Nevertheless, the grading system has noticeable effects on students’ perception of grades at SIS. In the past, the majority of students received either general or high honor roll and students who qualified for the Honor Roll-Award of Excellence barely placed above half of the class, crowded within less than a five percent range of scores. This system was eliminated because it simultaneously decreased the perceived value of such honors and increased the perceived significance of each point in class grades.
Ultimately, the distribution of grades at SIS is a reflection of the competitive academic environment at the school. With the rise of hagwons, tutors and consulting firms, the competitive nature of the school is unlikely to change. However, a better understanding of grades can mitigate unwarranted apprehension and complaints regarding grade inflation. It is important that students realize that subjectivity in grading is inevitable, and that rankings are not everything.