Grade K-12 Inflation in the United States Essay

K-12 Inflation of the United States


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            It has been a popular belief that in order to determine how well a student has understood the topics discussed by a teacher is through the grades received at the end of the school year.  However, schools in the United States have been plagued with a major concern regarding this.  This is what has been referred to as grade inflation.  This paper will present three articles that discuss the issue of grade inflation, its contrary positions and the implication of the presence of grade inflation, particularly in the K-12 system has on the community as a whole.

A Leadership Opportunity?

            In his article, Zirkel (1999) defined grade inflation as “the rise in academic grades” which cannot be attributed to the academic capabilities of the students receiving these grades (p. 247).

This issue has become widespread through the entire American education system.

He based this conclusion on the significant increase in the grades received by high school students in the United States within the past five years despite the aptitude tests such as the American College Testing (ACT) and the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) had provided results that the academic achievement levels of these high school students have either remained the same or even decreased.  In fact, a study conducted by an independent firm in Jacksonville, Florida determined that the highest grades received by students were from those schools that were considered among the “lowest” ranking schools in the state in terms of academic achievement.  Moreover, more and more students have been declined admission from the college of their choice despite the fact that they are considered as “Straight-A” students in their high schools (Zirkel 1999).

            The situation of grade inflation among the K-12 system has become so widespread that many college admission representatives would look more on the aptitude test results earned by a college applicant as opposed to the transcript of records that college applicants send along with their application requirements.  This was after they have noticed that many of the students that have been accepted because of their high grades in high school are unable to cope with the demands of college life and college education to the point that it has become common that they would partake of at least one remedial class during their Freshman year (Zirkel 1999).

            Despite this concern, high school faculty members have seen grade inflation as a means to secure student ratings, gain the attention of administrators and the enrollment rates.  Furthermore, they appear to be contented with the fact that the parents of their students are pleased with the grades receive of the students.  As a result, many turn a blind eye on the situation which Staples had considered to be an addiction to “counterfeit excellence” (as cited in Zirkel 1999, p. 255).

Harmful Effects of Grade Inflation

            William Abbott’s article (2008) discussed the harmful effects resulting from the proliferation of grade inflation not just in the K-12 grade system, but among college and graduate students as well.  One of this is that since the grades of students are now concentrated in the upper grading strata despite the lack of academic achievement on the part of the students has led many professors and educators to have an uneven and, at times, an unfair assessment on the accomplishments of the students.

            However, the article had also stipulated that while many of the students who have been given high grades by their teachers may lack the level of academic achievement that is often associated with the specific grade given, many are still confident that the basis of these grades given to these students has some basis on facts.  Still, the article supported Zirkel’s (1999) evidence that more and more colleges and universities put more emphasis on the results attained by the students in aptitude exams over than their grades (Abbott 2008).

            Abbott (2008) pointed to the increasing apathy and the desire to please the parents of the students as the primary causes to the growing grade inflation in the United States.  Because of this, many universities such as Princeton have begun to take measures to address this concern in order to ensure that the quality of the students graduating from these universities does not diminish.

Pressures from Parents

            Zirkel (2007) presented in his article “Much Ado about a C” a situation where a family sued their daughter’s Physical Education teacher and the school where their daughter studied in Federal court on the grounds that the Physical Education teacher’s decision to give their daughter a C in his class was against the 14th Amendment rights of their daughter.  Although the case ended in the favor of the teacher and the school, the article clearly portrays the pressure experienced by teachers and school administrators to give their students high grades despite the fact that their academic achievements reflects otherwise.  Indeed, many parents, particularly those coming from minority races, view that if their children are given a low grade by their teachers, it is a form of racial discrimination (Zirkel 2007).


            The issue of grade inflation is a complex issue that must be carefully studied and addressed by school administrators, members of the board of the school district and state officials.  There is nothing more that a parent would want than to ensure that his or her child has a bright future and a brilliant career which could only be attained by graduating from a top university which requires high grades as part of their requirements for admission.  This, plus the belief of many minority families that racial discrimination is still present in the country have caused many teachers to give grades which the student not necessarily deserves.


Abbott, W.  (January/February 2008).  The politics of grade inflation: a case study.  Change,

40(1), 32-37.

Zirkel, P. A.  (Winter 1999).  Grade inflation: a leadership opportunity for schools of

education?  Teachers college record, 101(2), 247-60.

Zirkel, P. A.  (December 2007).  Much ado about a C?  Phi delta Kapan, 89(4), 318-19.