Grade Inflation in L.A. Schools

Though the new system provides these students with an incentive to raise test scores, it inflates their grades to the detriment of other college applicants.

This program gives the participating students an advantage over those at other high schools in California. Outside LA, students aren’t getting grade boosts for doing well on standardized tests, which means their GPAs aren’t growing as much as those of LA students. George Mason University’s Patrick Marquardt found in a 2009 study that when high schools in Virginia boosted students’ grades for passing standardized tests, GPAs rose to an unprecedented level. From 1995 to 2007, the average high school GPA in Virginia rose from 3.27 to 3.56, an increase of 0.79 percent a year. By comparison, the national average GPA grew from 3.28 to 3.49, an annual rise of 0.5 percent. With LA schools’ GPA inflation, students who attend high schools that have held on to more stringent grading standards are at a disadvantage when it comes to college admissions. While grade inflation has been a problem for many years, there’s no need to make the GPA inflation gap wider.

Of course, if all California high schools implemented the new program, the grade inflation gap might be bridged since all in-state students would receive the same benefits from doing well on standardized tests. But even then, grade inflation in the state could have national implications, especially for non-Californians applying to colleges that emphasize high school GPAs.

—Arik Burakovsky

Staff Writer

Incentivization Hampers Learning

All of the time students have devoted to state standardized testing — shamelessly filling in their scantrons with bubble art — has paid off: The Los Angeles Unified School District is now doling out incentives to the tune of a GPA raise for students who go out of their way to actually try taking the test and improve a level on state standardized testing. The fact that students need to be bribed to fill in the bubbles not only introduces an ineffective rewards system, but also draws to our attention the inherent flaws of state testing.

The primary purpose of education is not about test scores or grades, but learning. Learning is not reflected in this rewards system. State testing has shown to be a poor indicator of students’ abilities; According to the National Research Council, 20 to 25 percent of teachers in the bottom groups one year are in the top groups the next year due to the standardized state testing of their students.

This grade incentive is unfortunately not going to increase the validity of standardized testing. Alfie Kohn, an author on American education, cites over 70 different studies in his book “Punished by Rewards,” as evidence that any form of extrinsic motivators (like grade boosts) are ineffective, and sometimes even counterproductive at increasing motivation and producing better results. According to Kohn, compliance is only temporary, so once the students get used to the grade-increase incentive, they become just as apathetic as before and fail to continue improving test scores. Motivating students through these methods is just seeking compliance, Kohn said, and schools should stress the importance of learning, not grades.

—Saad Asad

Staff Writer

Incentives Necessary for Survival

The LA Unified School District hopes to protect their schools from being shut down by creating a program that rewards students for improved test scores with a grade boost. This proposed reward system is a necessary and feasible option that will increase student scores and in turn make the schools viable to officials.

LAUSD, which serves almost 695,000 students, is known for low academic achievement, and the second lowest graduation rate in the United States at 40.6 percent. Success with this program is imperative for the survival for schools in this district, as they depend on these tests to remain autonomous. If schools continuously fail to meet standards, their worst case scenario is a school shutdown.

LA Unified is hoping to avoid the fate of having its schools continuously underperform and be shutdown. The student now has an incentive to try to do well because she directly benefits. This incentive is a hit or miss, but not every student views a grade increase as a worthy incentive. LAUSD is banking that the test incentivzes enough students.

There are other, more effective, ways to test a student on what she’s learned, such as performance-based assessments that evaluate a student’s real work. Unfortunately, these tests are far costlier to implement and grade than multiple choice tests. Public schools are already cash strapped and these other tests are simply not viable options.

While there are drawbacks with this program, such as promoting an inferior test type and not consistently being effective in creating incentives, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. This program isn’t costly and, if effective, could impact troubled schools in very significant ways.

—Aleks Levin

Staff Writer

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