Same Grades, Different GPA

By Katie Ash — December 27, 2007 1 min read
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There’s an AP story posted today that pretty much sums up my frustrations as a high school student in a high-performing, affluent school district. Here’s the basic gist of it:

In most of the [Washington, D.C. area], a score of 90 or higher will earn a student the top mark. But in Fairfax County, (Va.) it takes a score of at least 94."

It’s this kind of discrepancy that really irrated me when I was a student. Although I did not attend school in Fairfax County, my school district used the same grading scale as the one described in the article. Even between schools in the same district, it seemed to me that grading scales fluctuated significantly. It didn’t seem fair that so much of my grade-point average depended on factors over which I had little control--what school I attended, what classes I took, and which teachers I had.

I wish I could have taken the advice of Robert J. Massa, vice president for enrollment at Dickinson College, and just “chill[ed] out about grades,” but I still feel that’s a hard request when you are one of hundreds of hard-working students in a county where almost everyone goes to college, competing for a limited number of spots at a state university.

But there’s an interesting take on this in a similar article in the Washington Post, which says that grades are actually a better indicator of success in college than standardized tests. Also, grades are “much less closely correlated with student socioeconomic characteristics than standardized tests,” say two researchers. I have to admit, reading that point of view has made me question my stance on grades in school. After all, it’s much easier to point a finger at the system than to ask myself whether I should have worked a little harder or studied a little bit more.

What do you think? Do the discrepancies in grading scales between districts put some students at a disadvantage when they’re applying for scholarships or vying for spots in colleges? Or is it a good indicator of student effort and achievement? Do the differences in the scales effectively account for varying economic and environmental factors? Or do they simply give some students an unfair advantage?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Motivation Matters blog.