Time and again, grade inflation arises in the news as being a catastrophic and detrimental event that, though worthy of discussion, is often an issue that predicts far worse outcomes and consequences than it actually does. In Alfie Kohn’s “The Dangerous Myth of Grade Inflation,” Kohn writes on how this argument is invalid and does not provide necessary evidence to confirm this claim, nor does it necessarily predict negative outcomes, if any. Without any convincing studies or evidence that demonstrate the predicted negative outcomes, grade inflation, if it is occurring, is a minimal threat to institutions, students, and their careers, and is largely disproportionately portrayed in the media.

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As a long-standing issue that dates far back from current day, the validity of grade inflation claims remains questionable. According to Kohn, this issue dates back to “more than a century ago,” bringing into question just how serious the issue of grade inflation is (Kohn, para. 2). Some may argue that, within the last few decades, grades have been on the rise; however, this evidence is based on self- report measures, which can certainly skew the information presented, as well as the validity of the collected data.

Rather, more accurate measures should be taken, such as looking at grade reports and cards. Adelman did just that by comparing transcripts among a range of years, and was unable to find a definite correlation that confirmed the claims of grade inflation (Kohn, para. 5). In fact, more prestigious schools did not reveal an upward trend, but instead were shown to remain relatively stagnant. As a more accurate means of ascertaining data in relation to grade inflation, these studies refuted claims on grade inflation, which begs the question as to why this issue is warranting so much attention in the media.

Grade inflation has been excessively and disproportionately portrayed in the media, predicting threatening reports of declines in literacy and overall learning. However, perhaps grade inflation is simply a victimless offense, as no studies stand to either confirm or deny these claims. Some may argue that, by professors giving out A’s like candy, the truly remarkable students are unable to rise to the top above the others, and hence do not earn the credit they otherwise deserve. To refute this, one may argue that the professor, as an educator, is there to aid in the success of as many of their students as possible, and not to separate the great from the best with arbitrary point divisions that result in the (overall) relatively small difference between an A or a B.

The argument over grade inflation seems to mask the actual goal of learning and how receiving grades is, more realistically, feedback on a student’s mastery of material learned. All too often, grades are used as a way to determine a student’s worth, whether it is self inflicted thinking or the way society portrays this image to students. This brings up the subject of extrinsic motivation versus intrinsic motivation, and how students and educators alike should remember what the actual drive behind grade earning should be.

In fact, extrinsic motivation (focus on higher grades rather than learning) can actually decrease students’ motivations and intellectual curiosity over time. Therefore, the focus on grades and an overall shift to extrinsic motivations forms a distracting emphasis not on actually learning, but on the grade received. This approach to learning, as a result, undermines the goal of learning and takes away from the students’ overall education. After all, the goal of educators and institutions alike is, presumably, to promote a love for learning in all students and to aid in student’s educational goals.

The issue of grade inflation also brings into question the actual importance of grades, and how accurately they predict success. A growing body of evidence seems to suggest otherwise, according to Scott, who emphasizes how having all A’s is not necessarily the most important task in college. Research has shown, in both high school and college level students who consistently earned A’s, that it was those who were earning the C’s that encountered more success in their careers (Scott, para. 4). After all, the same skills that exist for a student to earn A’s are not necessarily the same skills required to gain a promotion in a career (Scott, para. 5).

There are a number of well-known individuals who encountered much success after school, regardless of the fact that they were poor students. Winston Churchill ranked the lowest in his class at an English private school. Richard Branson abandoned high school to start a newspaper. President George W. Bush earned consistent C’s at Yale. The list goes on. Grades, inflated or not, are an inaccurate predictor of success, and there seems to be much evidence that higher grades do not actually prepare students for the “real world.”

To argue that grades are not actually being bettered by rising, but rather inflated, implicitly states that grades must be not as accurate today and questions the evaluation of what a student earns in class. As Kohn argues, “what is most remarkable is how rarely learning even figures into the discussion,” referring to how we limit ourselves if we base learning on simply points earned, extrinsic motivations, and incentives, rather than actually learning the material (Kohn, para. 15).

The issue of grade inflation, therefore, seems to be an over sensationalized issue that has not only been disproportionately portrayed in the media, but also has been proven to be a minimal threat to students and their overall success after school. While grades are important to an extent, perhaps they receive too much attention in regards to the larger picture. Institutions, educators, students, and parents must remember that grades are not a measure of worth, and that emphasizing grades over learning undermines the actual goals of education.

  • Scott, Sarah. “Do Grades Really Matter? – Macleans.ca.” Macleansca. 30 Aug. 2007. Web. 10 July 2015. .