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GRADE INFLATION



In a recent article titled To Mark Your Child’s Progress, Look Beyond the Grades, CNN contributor Athena Jones writes, “According to the report by Gallup in partnership with the nonprofit Learning Heroes, almost 9 out of 10 US parents think their children are on grade level in math and reading, despite dismal national standardized test scores.” In the article Jones shares a story about a mother whose daughter was getting mostly A’s and B’s in her elementary school. She quotes the mother, “I thought the child was on Honor Roll…Her lowest grade – a C – was in art.” But when the child went to a new school and took a standardized assessment it was revealed that her reading level was 3 grades behind. The author of the article admits that grade inflation is a significant problem throughout schools in America. Now just think about this for a moment, the “A” letter grade traditionally represented a student’s mastery over the academic material, while a “B” represented a student being slightly above average, and a “C” represented an average student. If a child, three grade levels behind in reading, is maintaining a mastery level it begs the question, “What kind of standards are being taught in our schools?” 


The foundational reason as to why grade inflation exists, I think, lies in the identity crisis in our culture. God created humans for a purpose and therefore human beings instinctively long for meaning. The problem is that we look for it in all the wrong places, mainly we look for it within ourselves. This is why the self-esteem movement is so ingrained in our culture. Every athlete deserves a trophy, even if their team loses, every artist deserves a ribbon, even if they just scribbled on a piece of paper, and every student deserves an A, even if they don’t know how to read. For this reason, grade inflation must not exist in Christian schools. We teach our children that their value must not be bound up with a false sense of accomplishment but genuine accomplishments. And of course, even beyond a temporal value, we teach them that their ultimate value is bound up with something outside of themselves. For a human being it is bound up in being created in the image of God, and for the believer it is bound up in the full restoration of that image in Christ. 


This is why at a classical Christian school parents must learn to reorient how we think about grades. Not every child will get an A in reading because not every child excels in reading, and that’s ok. On top of this parents must understand that the curriculum we use is significantly above the national standards. To put this in perspective, an average child reading at grade level  should be scoring in the 50th percentile on standardized tests and theoretically  getting a “C” in school. What we have, instead, is children reading three grade levels behind the “standard” and getting A’s. If a child three grade levels behind is showing mastery over the material, presumably the material being taught would be in the lower 10th percentile when compared with national standards. At most classical schools the exact opposite is true. The material we teach does not correspond to the lower end of the spectrum but the higher end. So, if the national average is a student scoring in the 50th percentile, the average student in a classical school would score in the 70th percentile. Do you see the gulf this creates? In schools across the country a child scoring in the 10th percentile can be bringing home A’s on the report card, while at a classical school a child can be scoring in the 70th percentile and be bringing home C’s on the report card. Now, the action step is not to recalibrate our standards but to reorient how we think of grades. The reason for this, friends, is that our responsibility is never to lower our standards to meet those of a degenerating society but to elevate standards in order to cultivate students to distinguish the true, the good, and the beautiful for the glory of Christ. 


The epidemic of grade inflation clearly displays the importance of the vision at Providence Academy. At Providence we honor Christ through excellence in education. If the trend is that students in the lower 10th percentile are receiving A’s and B’s, what is happening to the students in the 90th percentile? The answer is that they become bored and disinterested in school. For this reason, the curriculum at Providence Academy is difficult, it is intended for students scoring on the higher end of the spectrum. And it is for this reason that to be accepted into Providence students must score above the 50th percentile on standardized assessments. This doesn’t mean that as a school we believe that higher achieving students are more valuable than lower achieving ones, it simply means that as a school we took note that higher achieving students are significantly underserved in the Christian school community. As a school, Providence Academy desires to be faithful in meeting that need, so that as Christians we have an outlet to educate our future leaders that this society desperately needs.

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