More on grade inflation | Arkansas Blog

More on grade inflation

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John Brummett today looks further at high school grade inflation, which will be a factor in qualification standards for the lottery-increased state college scholarship program.

The Stephens Media website is apparently undergoing revision and not up to date at the moment. So you can read the column on the jump.

John sides with Lt. Gov. Bill Halter that the best way to address school districts that inflate grades is not to punish the students by limiting their chances for advancement.

UPDATE: And here's more from Andrew DeMillo on Gov. Beebe's influence on lottery legislation, including the grade inflation element.

But what if the grades are bogus?

By John Brummett

There's this situation commonly referred to as grade inflation. What it means it that you're in a school that gives you grades higher than you deserve, at least by broadly accepted standards.

We have anecdotal information that many of our youngsters in Arkansas have graduated from high school with sparkling grades and then couldn't do basic freshman college work, at least with the proficiency that their high school transcripts would recommend.

We're doing a disservice to these young people by loading them up with all these feel-good A's and B's that don't do them a bit of good when they get to college. It's even an issue in our court-ordered quest to make sure public education in Arkansas is adequate and equitable. It's neither
adequate nor equitable if a student gets an A that's equivalent to someone else's hard-earned C-plus.

So now comes our new lottery for college scholarships. The current plan is to guarantee scholarships of some size, varying according to the health of lottery proceeds, to any and all Arkansas high school graduates maintaining 2.5 grade point averages and choosing to enter an in-state institution of higher education.

But what if those 2.5 grade point averages are uneven from place to place and sometimes widely inflated? We've seen controversies in other states with scholarship programs based on minimum GPAs. There were accusations that schools were doctoring grades to make sure kids would stay eligible.

Our bill as currently written seeks to address that. It refers to a forthcoming list of schools in the state, to be compiled by the state Education Department, in which more than 20 percent of the student body has a B average or better but fails to make a minimum competency score on
end-of-course tests.

The bill says students in those schools with 2.5 GPAs or better won't be allowed one of these scholarships unless they also score a 19 or better on the ACT. House Speaker Robbie Wills has outed Gov. Mike Beebe as the driving force for this provision. Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who got the lottery on the ballot and passed it, and who doesn't see much eye-to-eye with Beebe, likes nothing in it.

One thing Halter has consistently shown throughout this debate is that, when it comes to these new lottery scholarships, he wants expansiveness, not restriction. He believes that a problem with grade inflation ought to be confronted and corrected on its own terms. He believes it should have nothing to do with the scholarships. He does not believe you fix something that is broken by breaking another thing.

A youngster with straight A's in a grade-inflating school got the only straight A's he was permitted to attain. It's not his fault that the school awarded high marks indiscriminately and liberally. To deny him a scholarship because his school gave bogus grades is to punish the wrong party, meaning the student, not the school.

Surely this would all work itself out somewhere early in the college career, when, to keep the scholarship, the student would be required to maintain that 2.5.

Maybe we would have squandered a few thousand dollars on a student whose A's and B's in high school weren't real. But would that be so horrible? Can you seriously misappropriate money by making a good-faith award to help a youngster whose sin was to receive good grades?

But aren't we compensating for the grade-inflation disqualification by allowing that student to qualify otherwise with a score of 19 or better on the ACT?

Yes, except for the racial disparity on that test. Cultural and economic disadvantages cause black students to average less than 19 on the ACT, about four points below the average of white students. Hispanic students also generally score lower.

Anyway, it's been shown that you can score as low as 17 on the ACT and get a college degree if you are motivated and properly encouraged and supported.

One way to keep a student properly encouraged and supported would be not to deny initial college aid on account of going to a high school that gave bogus grades.

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