From the Field

Research Notes: Study Finds Persistent Post-Pandemic Grade Inflation

New research by University of Washington researchers Dan Goldhaber and Maria Goodman Young reveals substantial grade inflation in the wake of the pandemic.

Using longitudinal data from students in Washington State, the authors compared the distribution of grades over time and found that the proportion of students receiving “F” grades fell relative to “A” grades across math, science, and English Language Arts (ELA) subjects during the pandemic.

By 2022, ELA and science grades fell closer to pre-pandemic levels, while math grades remained noticeably elevated. Goldhaber and Young suggest this may represent a persistent shift in grading standards. The persistent shift in grading standards is concerning because the authors also observe a diminishing correlation between grades and standardized test scores, particularly in math.

The authors note that before the pandemic, a stronger relationship existed between grades and test scores, providing a reliable signal of student achievement. During the pandemic, the reliability of grades as a signal of student achievement weakened, a problem has persisted in math, the authors write.

Course grades as a signal of student achievement: Evidence of grade inflation before and after COVID-19

Dan Goldhaber, Maia Goodman Young

June 2024