Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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30 Responses

  1. Avatar Damon says:

    I’ve seen examples of “Grade inflation” in my professional work as well, so this curse is spreading. But in the professional case, it was to actually to get employees a decent pay increase. It apparently got so bad, with numerous managers giving “outstanding” to all their subordinates, that HR and the execs sent, out memos requiring that reviews results follow into the normal bell curve, and that any “outstanding” be specifically justified in the write up of the employee’s review. All this over 1% more pay.Report

    • Avatar morat20 says:

      Sometimes when grade inflation comes up I wonder about some methods over others.

      The local high school, for instance, ‘inflates’ AP and Honors courses. An A in an honors/AP course is a 5.0, but in a regular version of that it’s a 4.0, and in a remedial/basic it’s a 3.0.

      So valedictorians often have 4+ GPAs (not all courses have an AP/honors course. Most don’t, in fact) — which means you have to be a lot of AP/honors courses (and do well) if you want a high ranking.

      I believe it was done because for a few years back in the 80s, you had a streak of valedictorians who avoided honors/AP classes in order to get easy 4.0s (for them) in the regular version, which effectively penalized students who took more difficult versions of the course.

      I’m quite okay, honestly, with that sort of inflation. I don’t even know if that counts as inflation, in fact. And I get the impression that’s pretty common.

      I’m curious what others think.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I don’t have any problem with that. My own school system did something similar. It capped out at 4.5 (so if you were 4.6, it would be listed as 4.5), though there are only so many honors courses you can take. If Heebie’s experiences are any indication, though, a lot of schools are going even further than that. (It should also be noted, though nobody has suggested otherwise, that Heebie is a lefty and not some conservative curmudgeon.)Report

  2. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    What does it mean to be college-ready?

    Lee has shared this story before and I will share it again because it is illustrative. We went to a very good suburban public school that managed to send an inordinate amount of students to Ivy Leagues and other elite colleges and universities. We went from 1994-1998, so before No Child Left Behind and lots of standardized testing.

    Every year, our HS would print out a book with class rankings (no names), GPA, colleges applied to, and colleges accepted into. Something like this

    1. 4.0. Harvard Yale Princeton. Harvard Yale Princeton.

    One of our classmates went one of the better ranked Ivy Leagues and got an extremely low grade on her first college paper. She said she really struggled during her first semester and felt that the her classmates who attended private schools were much better prepared for the standards at really exclusive Ivy League University.

    She now has a PhD.

    My theory is that private schools can prepare students for college and university better because many of them act as mini-colleges in terms of pedagogical teaching style and classroom atmosphere. Even the best public high schools can’t do this.

    Was our classmate not college ready? Should she have gone somewhere else?Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      This is a pretty decent point, though it has me thinking along slightly different lines. The differences between the college atmosphere and the high school one are pretty significant. My ex-girlfriend was a stellar high school student, but flamed out of college pretty quickly. She really needed the structure of high school. I was sort of the other way, doing better in college than I did in high school, which I found stifling.

      I get the sense, though, that this isn’t typical. I can think of relatively few cases where it applies.

      (Along similar, but different lines still, my wife struggled a great deal in her first year in med school. It wasn’t that she wasn’t smart, obviously, but she’d gone through her entire academic career never learning the shortcuts that I learned in middle school. Her diligence and thoroughness contributed greatly to her academic success, but was not sustainable in medical school. Once she got the hang of it, she excelled of course and graduated in the top third of her medical school class.)Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        In most high school, you have a structure forced upon you and your freedom to pick your own courses is limited. There are some rooms for electives but not that much and I’m not even sure if it is true at all anymore. College is more free. Even within the core requirements, students get to decide how they want to fulfill them. If you don’t have the discipline to do the work yourself than your going to struggle in college.Report

  3. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    College readiness depends a lot on the particular college your going to. An institution like Johns Hopkins for pre-med or a degree with a demanding course of study like architecture or engineering requires students with more ready discipline than a large university where the main goal is just to get a degree. Even academic excellence might not be enough.

    Saul and I went to a very academically focused public high school. The question is what college you were going to, not whether you were going to college. One of our friends was absolutely brilliant student and talented musician that got into one of the top Ivies. This is a woman who got As throughout her academic career and was in top AP classes. On Facebook she admitted to basically feeling unprepared for college even though she was a much more disciplined and brilliant student than I was.Report

  4. Avatar ACIS says:

    SAT is about determining a base set of skills the students should have.

    GPA is about determining whether the student can keep their nose to the grindstone and attend class reliably.

    Both are important. Next question?Report

  5. Avatar Stillwater says:

    Which always, always, always brings us back to the question that those of us who believe “Universal education isn’t the answer” have difficulty confronting. How do you decide? Every metric we have is flawed. Which brings us back to the cost of education, because with every increase, the consequences are that much greater.

    If every metric is flawed (and let’s suppose that’s true for now), one reasonable conclusion is the following: the ideal we’re striving for is impossible to attain. This reminds me of a point I was trying to make to Saul and North last night, ie., that if it’s impossible (like functionally, practically, perhaps logically impossible) to eliminate monetary-based privilege from effecting college and job placement, then it’s incoherent to promote education policies with the goal of eliminating the effects of monetary-based privilege expressing itself in education and education-based job placement.

    On the other hand, I get your more practical point here, and agree with it entirely: if we think a finer grained analysis of student merit is justified to tilt the playing away from the expression of monetary-based privilege in this area without including some really important variables into the mix (like likelihood of graduating, for example) then all we’ve done is increase the cost of attaining a degree which will in all likelihood be just as useful or useless as it currently is. Which strikes me as sorta (not entirely) incoherent. At least, it’s incoherent if we’re worried about students finding degree-related jobs to pay down their debt and focus exclusively on either getting more students to become degreed, or focus on breaking down the barriers to entry that make getting a degree the expression of economic privileges. (This is also true, it seems to me, as a critique of the argument that the state ought to subsidize education to keep it cheaper to achieve either of those two goals , etc etc.)

    One note on grade inflation: I was teaching college courses during the great Grade Inflation Movement at the college/university level some years ago. One of the key reasons it became so pronounced in so many departments was a change in the way teachers (profs!) were evaluated for hiring, rehire, raises, etc.: student evals constituted 25% (I think) of the decision process. (This, in turn, was the result of students becoming much more active in promulgating data and opinions of profs teaching abilities and demands. Lots of students would drop classes taught by teacher X because he was known as a “hard grader”.) By the end of my time teaching, the average grade for a course in my department was a B, and for lots of profs it was a B+. Students liked those professors! (And the university really liked professors the students really liked!) So the grade assignment really collapsed the the difference between an A student and a B student.Report

  6. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    I’ve alluded to this in the past, but that shift in structure is pretty important. If the high school is not actively grooming kids for the college environment (which is more than just rigorous academics), then the only kids from such schools who will do well at college straight out of high school are the ones who have a high degree of discipline, awareness, & emotional intelligence. They are the ones who will recognize the different environment for what it is & be able to change mental gears quickly enough (while avoiding the party scene) to avoid a dismal freshman year.

    Among high school seniors, I would think this is an uncommon thing. It’s also something that is not reflected in GPAs or test scores. Having college educated family that can provide guidance to a new freshman can overcome some of that, but not all.

    I think some time away from home, living as an adult, can also help, but I have no idea how much. For myself, the best thing I did was attend a commuter college for a year that had a feeder program to the Uni. It gave me a year to adjust in a low stress environment. My first year at Uni was still tough, but I was able to get through it.Report

    • Avatar morat20 says:

      From personal experience, I will note this:

      Upon arriving at college at 18, and situating myself in the ‘honors’ dorm (full of kids with high SAT scores, excellent class rankings, many college hours already from AP tests, and all eligible and taking honors versions of classes) — the first thing we were told is “This dorm historically has one of the lowest GPA’s on campus for freshman”.

      There were, I came to learn, two types of freshman with high grades and high SAT scores. Those to whom high school was very easy, and required minimal effort — and those who worked their butts off. The latter tended to have 4.0s in college, too. The former (myself included) floundered badly.

      I picked myself up, learned some valuable lessons, and did much better after my freshman year. But that’s a lesson I still recall.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

        My sister was in that first group. She left college before her junior year & never went back (& has a nasty case of sour grapes about it all).Report

        • Avatar morat20 says:

          I admit, I got lucky. It was a really sharp shock to me to, well, fail. (I was lucky in that I failed due to lack of effort, and not lack of ability).

          I did some soul-searching, changed majors entirely, and went back to do just fine. I didn’t graduate with honors from the university I started at, but I graduated with a 3.5 GPA and a BS from another college — and waltzed into their Master’s program about 6 years later, and got my MS.

          In a lot of ways, failing like that was the best thing that could have happened to me.Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

            Yeah, my first year at Uni was still very much a shock. Took two F’s before I got my feces consolidated and pulled out of the dive.

            Undergrad GPA wasn’t spectacular, but the Grad GPA was something to be proud of, and once you have that shiny grad GPA, no one gives a crap about how you did as an Undergrad.Report

  7. Avatar Kolohe says:

    Saul Degraw: We went from 1994-1998, so before No Child Left Behind and lots of standardized testing.

    New York State used to be way ahead of the curve with standardized testing, vis a vis the Regents exam. (I was under the impression that Common Core cribbed heavily from the Regents curricula)

    Was this gone by the time grunge was everyone’s favorite music genre (or favorite to hate)?Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


      I took the Regent’s examinations, so no they were not gone but they also did not have the same sort of backlash that the Common Core is getting and the current “test out” movement is doing. The Regent’s were just state-wide finals in certain subjects. You had three in Social Studies which were Global Studies I (Latin American, Asian, and African history) Global Studies II (European History) and American History, four in math, four in science (earth science, bio, chem, and physics), one in a foreign language, one in English (the last two were taken junior year).

      You can graduate from High School in New York without getting a Regent’s Diploma. A Regent’s Diploma required four years of science and math but my high school only required students take Earth Science and Bio. After that, you could take electives like Marine Biology or Astronomy instead of Chemistry and Physics. My parents insisted I take the Regent’s courseload.Report

  8. Avatar Patrick says:

    Didn’t I write this post already?

    I thought I wrote this post already. I’ve been yammering about this on social media for months now as part of the school board campaign 🙂Report

  9. Avatar Patrick says:

    Found it! It was on Facebook.

    Copying here because I’m lazy:

    How Children Succeed, or, Grit is the New IQ

    I’m not overly fond of the current status of “grit”, it’s squishy at best.

    But I’m pointing out this article anyway because the graph of the SAT scores correlated with GPA helps to illustrate a point I was talking about at DAC last night:

    SAT scores combined with high school GPA is the best predictor we have, right now, of collegiate success.

    And it’s not a great predictor. From a population standpoint, it’s not totally useless, but as an individual predictor?

    It might as well be.

    For example, check out the kids that scored 1100-1200 on the SAT v. the kids who scored 1600. *Half* the 1600 kids got *lower* GPAs than the majority of kids who scored in the 1100-1200 range.

    The focus on getting kids “college ready” is almost entirely focused on AP classes, academic rigor, test results… measurable quantities.

    Now, if you’re shooting for a 3.0 GPA in the first year of college, for 1,000 kids, it’s not a bad guess that kids that score between 1300 and 1520 will skew towards surpassing that goal more than not.

    But even in that block, there’s almost as many kids “under-performing” as there are ones making that grade. Particularly for the kids below 1300, **and** the ones above 1520, there’s a much murkier picture.

    If we really want our kids to be “college ready”, we need to stop focusing so much on “how many kids have access to AP”, or “how many kids graduate with a N.0 GPA” or “how many kids score above Z on the SAT”.

    Those are important guidelines, but they shouldn’t be *targets*, because there is very little correlation between those targets and the goal we’re shooting for… “college readiness”. Goodhart’s law: once you turn a measure into a target it ceases to become a useful measure. Measuring GPA or SAT as part of a comprehensive goal of preparing kids for college is useful, trying to get to a particular number isn’t.

    What to do? How can we get anywhere from here? This is a difficult question, and it’s a focus of a lot of educational research, so it’s hard to claim, “Eureka! I have the answer!”

    But we can get started. We need to start keeping an open relationship with our graduates after they graduate, so that we can find out more about why they are succeeding *when they actually get to college*.

    We can only find that out by asking them.

    Then we can identify those skills and get those competencies backfilled into our high school system.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

      Isn’t this why we have heuristics?Report

      • Avatar Patrick says:

        The problem with heuristics is when they aren’t.

        Or Goodhart’s law, again: once you turn a measure into a target it ceases to become a useful measure.

        The funny thing is that it actually is right now entirely possible to find qualitative data regarding college success. Track the kids and ask them.

        Did you go to college?
        * Did you graduate?
        * Did you receive financial aid?
        * Did you have a part-time job, or work study?
        * Did your parents pay for it?
        * Did you graduate in four years… or five? Or six?
        * What was your major?
        * After you graduated, how long did it take you to find a job?
        * Did you find a job through a personal network or a job service or what?

        Did you get a job?

        Did you join the military?

        I mean, there’s lots and lots of different ways of measuring “success” depending upon what folks think “success” is… and we can measure all of them now. So start collecting the damn data anyway.

        Or rather, start collecting it outside of Facebook 🙂Report