Campus Scenes

Not Making the Grade

Grade inflation and a sense of entitlement will not help American graduates compete.

By 3.2.09

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Our lives are filled with measures of achievement. From cleaning our rooms as children and taking a driver's test as teenagers to annual job reviews through the course of a career, there are benchmarks of achievement that follow us through the entirety of our lives.  As we grow, these benchmarks become more numerous and the stakes become higher.

Curiously, these benchmarks are being consistently eroded in primary and secondary education, a stage of life when they should be most emphasized. Standard benchmarks in educational achievement are increasingly falling by the wayside and the results are troubling.

George Leef with the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy wrote of this problem at the college level, noting that more college students today expect high grades for simply showing-up in class or completing reading assignments. The New York Times explored the issue as well, quoting college educators bemoaning the fact that too many students are equating effort with quality of work.

The origins of this sense of entitlement to good grades are not difficult to trace. Students preparing for college now often find themselves in classrooms where self esteem is valued more than results. This mindset is perpetuated at the collegiate level as institutions increasingly forsake legitimate measures of scholarly merit in favor of unclear and shifting policies designed to permit social engineering, both in terms of admission to college and assessments of performance within it.

An illustration of this is seen in the relatively small but growing number of colleges that have dropped standardized testing as a requirement for admission in favor of "holistic" admission practices.

Just last month, the University of California Board of Regents voted to eliminate SAT Subject Tests as an admissions requirement, opting instead for a costly "entitled to review" system. The stated reason for dropping the tests: Some students did not know they had to take them, thus creating a "barrier" to admission.

Efforts to eliminate such standards in education come from outside academia as well. Political activist groups like Fair Test and others advocating the end of standardized testing for college admission do so not for academic reasons but because doing so meshes with the defined political agenda of liberal control over academia. This is done by preaching to students and educators about the false politics of entitlement over the practical necessity of achievement. Test-optional policies promoted by such groups serve no purpose other than to blur the lines of scholarship while destroying empirical standards of education and the definition of academic merit.

Wherever standards are destroyed and merit is redefined, a sense of entitlement necessarily follows. This is true in any aspect of society. In the field of education, it manifests itself in the demand by students for high grades when they are not earned. Aaron Brower, vice provost for teaching and learning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, summed up the need for empirical measures, telling the New York Times, "Unless teachers are very intentional with our goals, we play into the system in place."

The same can be said of test optional admission policies at America's colleges. Presenting students with uncertain and imprecise standards for admission plays into this growing sense of entitlement. It stands to reason that, if the standards for admission to college are subject to holistic whims, so too should be the grades given to students. The end result is a workforce that is less able to contribute to and compete in an increasingly competitive global economy.

The American economy today is under stress because of a recession. Recessions ebb and flow over time, but a failure to provide the highest caliber education and demand excellence from those who seek it poses a far larger threat. Students may receive higher grades by simply demanding them, but America will not succeed economically just because we want rewards without results. It's time to align our education priorities with economic realities.

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About the Author
Ken Blackwell, the former mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio is Vice Chairman of the Republican National Committee's Platform Committee. He also serves on the boards of the Club For Growth and the National Taxpayers Union.