grades

Grade Inflation is Real...

...and how it will affect your child’s college admissions is alarming.

We all hear about grade inflation – when teachers give A’s to average students – and we look the other way, especially when our kids benefit from them, right?  I’ve heard about teachers giving students a full-letter grade bump just for showing up to take the standardized tests at school each year. Others give students 10 points for bringing in snacks or class supplies.  What’s worst of all are teachers who offer so much extra credit that students don’t do their work or study for tests because they know that one way or another, they can pull their terrible grades up to A’s by the end of the semester.  None of this builds character or prepares students for college.

Grade inflation hurts the students.

Yup!  Because so many schools are inflating grades – especially in white, affluent schools—colleges can’t rely on grade point averages (GPAs) to assess whether or not the students will be successful in their colleges.  So when colleges can’t rely on the students’ grades, they revert to the SATs and ACTs.  After all, college-bound students take the exact same test in a proctored classroom on the same day across the country.  If we’re comparing apples to apples, this may seem more reliable than GPAs. 

But SATs and ACTs don’t determine which students will be our next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.  Testing reading comprehension, grammar, math and science skills in a timed, multiple-choice format does not weed out students who would do poorly in college. Instead, students who do well on standardized tests today are those who can afford private SAT/ACT tutoring and spend years preparing for these tests.

Both the inflated GPA at wealthy white schools and high SAT/ACT scores due to expensive prep programs give these affluent students an unfair advantage.  They aren’t better equipped to succeed in college; they’re simply able to afford to attend schools that give away A’s and spend many hours under the expensive supervision of SAT/ACT coaches.

The good news is that college admissions officers receive school profiles that list GPAs and demographics so they know which schools inflate grades.  And colleges that require personal statements, essays, letters of recommendation and interviews use an eclectic approach to selecting their incoming classes.  When a student stands out because they’ve done a project or something remarkable, colleges notice. 

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SLEEP: The Key to Academic Success

When I ask my students about their plans for the weekend, I hear “SLEEP!” more than any other activity.  At first, I thought it was a fluke – like it must have been a full moon or something that caused so many kids to tell me they were tired that day.  Then, after taking notes after meeting with teens from different schools, socio-economic backgrounds, and levels of popularity, I am now convinced that sleep is the biggest problem students have in school. 

First, schools start far too early.  Most teens are up doing homework until 10:00-11:00 pm, and then they’re on their phones until the wee hours of the night texting friends.  If they also play video games, they may be up when the sun rises – and sadly, parents don’t know because kids won’t divulge info that will cause them to lose privileges. Yup, they’re smarter than we are.

That’s why when I designed the schedule for Merit Academy, classes start at 9:00 am.  So even when kids are up until midnight, they can still get at least 7 hours of sleep.  Besides, students perform better midmorning and early afternoon so why start classes at 7:30 or 8:00 am?

I just read a great article about all kinds of non-drug sleep aids on the market. THIM is a small device that you wear on a finger that trains your body to fall asleep sooner and sleep longer.  During the training period, it actually wakes you up as you fall sleep to retrain your body to fall asleep. 

There’s another device called Dreem.  You can take a quick survey to determine what type of sleeper you are and get tips on how to improve your sleep.  Their new technology will be available this summer.

Sleep is the single most effective thing you can do to reset your brain and body,” Dr. Walker of U.C. Berkeley said. And every teen needs to embrace this.  Because they are teens, they are not looking at the big picture and really need their parents to step in to give them healthy guidelines to develop good sleep habits.  These tools can lead to less stress and more clairvoyance – and we do want them to be happy, don’t we?

Filtering Distractions = Better Retention

Just read an NPR article “Learning in the Age of Digital Distraction,” that validates my claims that when students have to filter out distractions in class or while studying, they will perform at a lower level than their non-distracted counterparts. I’ve written several blogs on how our addiction to technology negatively affects our social and academic performance: There's No Such Thing as Multi-Tasking While Studying, We Have No Privacy - NONE, The Evolution of Language Innovations: Texting and Abbreviations, and Smart Replies Are Dumb, And Here's Why.  
 
According to Dr. Adam Gazzaley, neurologist and professor at UCSF, students perform at their highest level (memorizing facts and information for tests) when they successfully filter out all irrelevant information and stimuli.  In other words, when they’re reading a passage or listening to a lecture without any distractions, they can fully comprehend the concepts and retain them.  However, if they are distracted by text messages or other notifications popping up on their phones or computer screens (irrelevant information), these distractions will degrade their brain’s ability to process the important information and their performance on tests will be much lower. 
 
Meditation or other mindful relaxation processes can help give students the break they need from over stimulation that they receive throughout the day.  While that sounds great in theory, I don’t know about you, but I have real trouble meditating.  The last time I “meditated,” it felt like E T E R N I T Y as I tried to “not think” or stop creating mental lists of all of the things I’d rather be doing than meditating. Then when I opened my eyes and looked at the clock, I was disappointed that only 45 seconds had passed. Ugh. 
 
So, instead I find that for those who can’t or won’t meditate, face-to-face meaningful engagement is the ticket.  By talking with our kids about things that are important to them, or you, they learn how to filter out distractions (texts, notifications, TV shows) as you model how to handle them.  Yup, that requires that you, too, learn how to filter out distractions.  Show them that you don’t have to check your phone or respond to a notification while you’re engaged in this conversation.  Ignore them or turn them off without reading them.  Wouldn’t Miss Manners of the past have put her nose up to people who would be so rude as to have another conversation with someone during a conversation? So rather than patiently waiting while your kids respond to distractions, teach them to filter them out by modeling that behavior.  It might be easier to simply turn off the distractions during the conversation to let your kids see how nice it is to have these interesting interchanges.
 
Just last week I had an enlightening conversation with my daughter Jaclyn.  She was visiting for the weekend and we sat and talked for about 45 minutes without interruption about her long-term goals with her job, her MBA program, and buying a home. I learned more about how she was feeling and she learned about my perspective on them. During the previous week, we had texted, emailed and called one another at least 50 times to discuss dates, times, lists, and factual information.  Between our crazy busy schedules we know we have about 10 seconds to communicate our thoughts before I have to go into session with a client or she has to rush off to class or work. While it’s nice to be in touch with her constantly via technology, it was such a great time to bond with her about these big decisions she’s facing in a deep conversation.
 
We know we can’t cut out technology – we actually  need it – but we can create times where we can have long, meaningful conversations with our kids.  Try starting this while driving long distances in a car or eating dinner around the dining table.  Turn off the music, phones, and TVs and open up the conversation.  Just once a day will give the kids a break from overstimulation and allow them to focus on something interesting.  Then, create a No Music/Phone/TV Zone while they do homework, and you’ll see a marked improvement in their ability to learn and retain information. This will improve their grades at school.  
 

GPA Stress

GPA StressHigh school students, and their parents, stress out about their grade point averages (GPAs). Fact.  But, why? Because colleges consider GPAs to be the single most important factor in making admission decisions. Makes sense, right? But the criteria by which these high school teachers use to determine these grades vastly differs from school to school. That’s unfair.

As a college advisor, I meet with students across the United States, so I see a wide variety of grading rubrics and final grades.  Even the schools that seem to be transparent about how grades are determined because they publish a detailed rubric at the start of the school year still have variances that may seem sketchy. 

Some teachers dock points for each day an assignment is turned in late, while others will allow a pile of late work to be turned in the day before the grading period ends.  Hmm.  Others allow students to retake exams that they fail or let them drop the lowest test scores to improve their grades.  Many give extra credit points for ridiculous things like bringing treats to class or going on field trips.

Over the years I’ve seen some doozies. One student took a 3-week summer history class where the teacher told him he didn’t need to attend the actual classes.  Really! He just needed to show up on the last day of the summer program with all of his completed assignments.  This student gathered up notes from a previous history class that he had failed and turned them into his summer teacher for credit.  The shocker was that the teacher gave this student an A in the history class – he obviously didn’t look at the pile of papers.  But the ridiculous part of this story is that the teacher actually replaced this student’s previous F’s in the fall and spring semesters with A’s! How is this fair to the other thousands of students who suffer from reduced GPAs when they fail a class?

To get students to actually take state mandated standardized tests each year, teachers and administrators have bribed students to do well on the tests by offering a full-letter bump in their final grade if they score at a specific percentage on the standardized tests.  In other words, if the student gets an 80% in the chemistry section of a standardized test, this chemistry teacher would bump the student’s final grade by one letter grade.  Say what? 

On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve seen a teacher not budge when a student received an 89.99% and gave him a B+.  This actually happened to one of my clients, who was a straight-A student until he got this single B+ in Chemistry.  The student asked the teacher if he could do extra credit, write an essay or do anything to bump his grade to an A so he could become the class valedictorian during his senior year.  Sadly, the teacher wouldn’t budge, and even though the student reached out to the principal and superintendent of schools, the teacher refused to change his grade.

When teachers use unethical grading practices to help their students improve their GPAs or to gain high scores on standardized tests (which reflect well on the teacher), that ruins the value of GPAs for everyone. College admissions officers are savvy to schools with substandard curriculum but they aren’t always aware of grading practices of particular teachers.  Seems to me that there should be more transparency about actual grading rubrics and policies on Rate My Teacher so colleges get a realistic view of student achievement in classes.

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