Grade Deflation: What It Really Is And How To Combat It

The Princeton Experiment And Its Harsh Results. Learn about grade deflation and its implications to Princeton’s student body. Read this article to learn more about the experiment that has yet to show any significant results. Grade Deflation

What is Grade Deflation?

Sometimes, it’s really hard to tell exactly how your grade on a final exam compares to the other grades. To find out, look for the percentage change from the previous test.


In my Math class, for example, for a test that normally has a 100% average, I got a 91%. There was only a 10% difference between my best test grade and my average. But, there was a 43% change in my worst test grade.

Because of the large difference between my best test grade and my average, I could tell that I either got an outstanding test, or an okay one. Either way, my score was still pretty good.

That’s how it works in Math. There are only a few steps from a 50% on your best test to a 100% on your worst test.

The Princeton Experiment

Some teachers are inclined to give less than the normal number of points for a test, especially if that exam will be looked on as a low-stakes assessment.

Curious about what was going on in their classrooms, staff at Princeton University decided to take a look. They set up a custom-built program in eight of the school’s classrooms, giving students 15-minute classroom-based tests after being told to take them seriously.

The college then waited about a month to see if they’d actually gotten a lower grade. They found that students who had received more than 45 points on their tests when they were given free reign to mark their work, did in fact get a lower score than the average student received.



Why does grade inflation and grade deflation exist? Why can't students just get the grade they earned? - Quora



Grade Deflation and its Implications

Though the Princeton experiment isn’t yielding the spectacular results we’ve been led to believe, it’s still eye-opening. Take a quick look at a few of the results the study has produced thus far:

Wondering if you are included in these numbers? You aren’t. The study only focuses on “average” scores, not on those of those of high-performing students.

These numbers are bound to increase, as many students who rank among the top 10% of their graduating class are still undecided about college.

Students who are undecided, but strongly leaning toward college, aren’t going to change their minds before they accept a college decision. In fact, some have even turned around and not opted to enroll at all.

How to Combat Grade Deflation

Teachers need to find ways to highlight and differentiate on a student’s achievements, especially in regards to grades. When we use advanced algorithms to calculate grades, we can lose sight of the achievements, learning experiences, or potential that lies within every student.

With grade inflation, we are unable to assess students on their skills and knowledge, while also taking into account the ability to perform in their current grades and without inducing inattentive behavior.

Another important factor in combating grade deflation is teacher accountability. It is imperative that teachers track how their students perform in their grades and use this data to adjust, educate, and inspire their students.

Uchicago Grade Deflation

“It is the intention of this Petition to request an investigation, examination, and report, detailing the facts of the subject matter of this Petition, of those facts that would require the alteration of the General Education curriculum in the Academy.” This petition is to request Princeton University to investigate the grade deflation that is rampant in their curriculum.

Princeton grade deflation

A quick look at the Princeton letter confirms the authenticity of the petition and its sincerity. It is a response to the very strange student demonstration in support of standardized testing and grade inflation that took place in the room just across from my office yesterday morning.


Grade deflation will never be eradicated, and it is necessary to take action to help students with GPAs and graduation expectations avoid falling further down the academic ladder. However, there are ways to make the curve much more forgiving, and thus easier to climb up.

The only way to avoid, or at least minimize, the prevalence of grade deflation is for parents and high school counselors to get involved. If parents are aware of the phenomenon, they are much more likely to help their children by taking action to overcome the obstacles of class rank and degree inflation.

All About Grades is dedicated to the stories of students and teachers throughout the United States.

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