You are here
Course Grades as a Signal of Student Achievement: Evidence on Grade Inflation Before and After COVID-19
While grading has been a topic of research for well over a century, teacher grading standards are receiving increased attention—and with good reason. There is widespread speculation (e.g., Johnson, 2021; Klinger et al., 2022; Mathews, 2022; Walker, 2021) and some evidence (e.g., Sanchez & Moore, 2022, Sanchez, 2023) that grading standards have changed over the course of the pandemic, making higher grades relatively easier to achieve and less reflective of objective measures of learning. It is possible—even likely—that shifting grading standards give parents, guardians, and students a confusing or inaccurate picture of what students know and can do, especially considering pandemic-related learning losses (Dorn et al., 2021; Goldhaber et al., 2023; Kuhfeld et al., 2022). Indeed, recent pieces in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times and The Associated Press raise this alarm, observing that many parents are left in the dark by the lack of information from their children’s schools. Public opinion surveys point to a discrepancy between what parents believe about their student’s level of achievement, i.e., that students have recovered academically, and what test results like NAEP suggest about their achievement (Esquivel, 2022; Kane & Reardon, 2023; Vázquez Tonnes, 2023).
Despite considerable theoretical work about grading standards and some evidence of changes in grading over the pandemic, we have limited research on the extent to which eased grading standards continued post-pandemic, as teachers and students returned to normal schooling. In this research brief, we use administrative data on student grades from Washington state to assess whether grading standards have returned to pre-pandemic levels.
Citation: Dan Goldhaber, Maia Goodman Young (2023). Course Grades as a Signal of Student Achievement: Evidence on Grade Inflation Before and After COVID-19. CALDER Policy Brief No. 35