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Volume 16, Number 1
January/February 2000

Grade Inflation

What's Really Behind All Those A's?


Whenever Carin Aquiline sat down to grade a stack of papers, she wondered what grades really meant. She even wondered whether they conveyed useful information to anybody-to students, parents, or teachers.

"I had a student with low skills, who plodded through her work," says Aquiline, a former 11th-grade English teacher who now works in professional development in the Boston public schools. "After a lot of hard work and time, she demonstrated the proficiencies to earn D's. And she was trying. I had another student who was capable of doing B work when he put his mind to it, but he very rarely did the work. His average grade came out to an F."

Those experiences and countless others in Aquiline's eight years of teaching raise familiar questions about how to assess student work. "What is it that we end up measuring by grades?" she asks. "What do grades tell us about students, and do they give us useful information about student learning?"

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

H.P. Blount. "The Keepers of Numbers: Teachers' Perspectives on Grades." The Educational Forum 61, no. 4 (Summer 1997): 329-334.

J.H. Hubelbank and P.W. Airasian. "Teachers Say Grades Aren't Enough." American School Board Journal 184, no. 12 (December 1997): 31.

Alfie Kohn. The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and "Tougher Standards." Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999.

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