A while back, some friends of mine relayed an experience they had in their pre-marriage years while taking a college drama course together. At the beginning of the quarter, the instructor asked the students to write down the grade they would like to receive. The wife immediately wrote that she would like to receive an A. The husband, meanwhile, wrote that he’d be happy with a B.

At the end of the semester, the two compared notes and discovered that they’d each received exactly what they’d asked for, leaving the husband to wish that he’d aimed a little higher. Clearly, the instructor was ready and willing to give out high grades upon demand, showing little regard for the value of an A.

But while an easy A was once a rare occurrence, such is no longer the case. In fact, new research suggests that an A is the most common grade out there. USA Today explains:

“Recent findings show that the proportion of high school seniors graduating with an A average — that includes an A-minus or A-plus — has grown sharply over the past generation, even as average SAT scores have fallen.

In 1998, it was 38.9%. By last year, it had grown to 47%.

That’s right: Nearly half of America’s Class of 2016 are A students. Meanwhile, their average SAT score fell from 1,026 to 1,002 on a 1,600-point scale — suggesting that those A’s on report cards might be fool’s gold.

This news is even more startling when one goes back another several years. According to records, the average SAT score in 1972 was 1,039 – a full 37 points greater than today’s scores.

USA Today continues:

The new findings come courtesy of two researchers: Michael Hurwitz of the College Board, the folks who bring you the SAT; and Jason Lee, a doctoral student at the University of Georgia’s Institute of Higher Education.

Hurwitz called the rise of the A average ‘really stunning.’”

High School Grade Inflation

USA Today goes on to explain that such a scenario first began during the Vietnam War, when college allowed many to escape being called up for service. Nevertheless, the fact that the trend has continued in the absence of a military draft is disturbing. So why does it?

A couple of reasons come to mind. The first is the fact that society has turned college into practically the only path to success in life. Thus, if students want to live a stable, middle-class life, they must get a college degree. To get that degree, they must get into college. And to get into college they must have good grades. As a result, a vicious cycle is created which drives standards ever lower and grades ever higher.

But the second reason might be even more disturbing, namely, the participation trophy culture in which everyone must get some type of reward for his or her work, regardless of whether it was deserved.

Either one of these explanations provides a grim picture for the future, for if we expel knowledge just to make the individual and his prospects look brighter, the façade of learning upon which America is standing can’t last long.

[Image Credit: Flickr-Jae-sun Gim | CC BY SA 2.0]