From the Field

Grade Inflation in High Schools


Grade inflation occurs when course grades given by teachers do not align with the other objective measures of student performance, such as end-of-course exams. The frequency and demographic discrepancies of grade inflation can have important implications for student outcomes, as Seth Gershenson explains in Grade Inflation in High Schools.

In looking at the extent to which test scores and course grades align, this study uses data from the North Carolina Education Research Data Center for nearly all students in North Carolina between 2005 and 2016 who were enrolled in Algebra 1. The findings indicate that grade inflation occurred in schools attended by more affluent students, rather than in ones attended by less affluent students, which worsens sociodemographic gaps.

Additionally, only a few students earned high scores on the end of course exam, but many more earned good grades. For example, 36 percent of students who received a ‘B’ in the course failed to score “proficient” on the end-of-course exam. This study and other research examining grade inflation highlights the importance of ensuring that the “signal” course grades send to parents and students is accurate.