Nostalgia doesn’t just make people yearn for better days of drinking iced tea on the porch or watching parades on the Fourth of July. It can also make people long for a time when they had to grapple for a chance at getting an A in a class.
The practice of teachers giving students higher grades for work that is less than excellent, derisively labelled grade inflation, has become an easy target for people eager to bash on supposedly lazy, entitled young students.
While it’s true that grades on average have increased for college students over the past 40 years, this does not signify that schools are bowing to the pressure of young people looking for a way to get more credit for worse work, nor does it mean education is going downhill. In fact, giving students higher grades is advantageous for many reasons. Teachers and professors who are still sticking to antiquated grading practices, like giving C’s for “average” work and only rewarding A’s to the most exemplary students, should reconsider giving A’s and B’s more frequently.
For one thing, the anxiety of pursuing a coveted A makes learning more of a competition rather than an academically enriching experience.
One popular grading technique involves the use of the bell curve, in which students are graded in relation to one another. As such, a few students who score higher than their peers get the A’s, while a slightly larger group get B’s, the majority get C’s and the remainder receive failing grades. While some who are eager to stop schools from coddling students with high grades may point to the curve technique as a more effective way of grading, this form of competition-based assessment forces students to worry not about learning the material, but about being the best in a random pool of other students just trying to get by.
Giving A’s to only a few select students means that all students in a class dread a potentially GPA-lowering score looming over all assignments, tests and quizzes they complete. This focus on working hard to achieve a high mark rather than achieving mastery of a topic places extrinsic desires over intrinsic motivation for learning. It turns studying into a race to the finish rather than an opportunity to gain more knowledge about the world, and encourages practices like pulling all-nighters and cramming before tests.
Having a grading system that rewards satisfactory grades to all students who demonstrate an understanding of the subject material and a willingness to participate in class means students work less for a grade and more to actually understand a topic.
Giving students higher grades is also effective because it fosters growth. Educators love using the term “growth mindset” because it emphasizes the importance of a student becoming better over time rather than stagnating at the same level. This mindset, which has been shown to be effective in helping students develop a love for learning and improve their academics, is achieved by prioritizing learning over performance. In other words, giving a student a 60 or 70 rather than an 80 for work that, while not necessarily at the same level as their peers, is indicative of personal improvement on their part, and discourages students from growing and becoming better.
Furthermore, giving out more A’s and B’s than C’s and F’s not only fosters student growth, but encourages struggling students not to drop out. A critical component of student performance, long-time learning and likelihood to persevere in the face of academic struggles is self-esteem. Students who have negative opinions of themselves are less likely to continue trying after a perceived failure, whereas those with a positive self-image tend to press on.
Doling out more failing grades than excellent grades contributes to worse self-image, making students less likely to continue through academic hardship. Especially when considering the myriad obstacles facing students on a daily basis, it is essential to give students as much assurance as possible that they belong in academia. Awarding better grades for satisfactory work is a simple, effective and otherwise advantageous way to do this.
This is not to say that all students should be given A’s all the time. Failing grades are necessary to communicate that a student does not have a clear grasp of the subject matter or that their decision to skip lecture means they missed vital information. This is to say, however, that failing grades should not be the norm and that satisfactory understanding of topics being discussed should warrant an A, not a C.
It can be tempting to dismiss students wanting straight A’s as naive and entitled. It can be frustrating to see the sheer percentage of students with A’s at a given campus and think, “They aren’t that smart.” If professors care about their students and their ability to learn, they will leave antiquated, needlessly harsh grading practices behind in favor of an education system that prioritizes what it always should have put first — learning.