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Monday, Feb. 26
The Indiana Daily Student

What’s in a grade?


The harsh reality is, your time in school can be boiled down to a single number; your grade point average.

When that one number means so much, it isn’t surprising people will go to extreme lengths to keep it high.

Still, an entire class caught cheating is unusual, but that’s exactly what happened at a high school in Downriver, Mich.

Two juniors took photos of an answer key to a test, and shared it with the rest of the class. The teacher got suspicious when every single student got a perfect score.

If you’re going to cheat, you should try to be a little smarter about it. At least get a gradient going so it looks like a class full of humans took the test.

Is it the students’ fault for cheating and cheating badly?

Of course.

But why would an entire class cheat?

Maybe the way we look at grades is part of the problem too.

Regardless of whether you believe GPA is an accurate representation of knowledge acquired and skills learned, it is an easy way to quantify school ?success.

Employers care about it because it tells them who they should hire.

I know, we’re all told that grades don’t actually matter.

It’s who you know, your experience in internships and your social skills.

Those land you jobs. Those skills help, but in the real world, the numbers still count.

A one-point increase in high school GPA has been translated to an 11.85-percent increase in annual earnings for men, and a 13.77-percent increase for women.

According to a senior human resources employee at InterActiveCorp, which employs 33,000 people, GPA is the single best predictor for job performance, and is what companies look at when they’re hiring.

A majority of employers look at GPA, and many set cutoffs for the people they hire. 3.0 is pretty standard, but the cutoff is higher for the better paying jobs.

Cheating to get a slightly better grade doesn’t seem that absurd now, does it?

What’s more, there has been a trend of grade inflation through the years.

The average GPA has risen in the U.S. by about 0.1 point per decade, from 2.52 in the 1950s to around 3.11 today.

Grades have also inflated at IU, going from a 2.83 average in 1976 to 3.16 in 2008.

We’ve probably gotten a little smarter. But grade inflation can also be attributed to our desire to stand out from the crowd and be seen as smart.

Schools inflate their grades to make their graduates look better and help them land the best jobs. And the process becomes cyclical; employers raise their standards to get the best new kids, and GPAs are bumped up to accommodate students.

Students want to learn. But I think, more than that, they want to succeed.

They want to have a good life with a good job. They want to make their parents and friends proud.

If they’re desperate enough, if they believe they will fail the rest of their lives if they can’t get a better grade, they’ll do whatever they can to succeed, even if that means cheating.

As long as schools and employers focus on GPA, students will focus on it as well.

They’ll do whatever they can to keep it high, even if they don’t learn the material organically or get the experiences they should.

School is about more than the grades you receive.

But as long as our futures rely on the numbers, we’ll act like it’s not.

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