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Study More, Learn Less

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Two National Assessment of Educational Progress reports were released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education. One found that students who graduated in 2005 had racked up more high school credits, more college-preparatory classes, and markedly higher grade-point averages than students 15 years ago.

The other report showed that 12th grade reading scores on standardized tests have generally been dropping since 1992, which throws into doubt what students are actually learning in those ostensibly college-prep classes, but also whether two decades of education reform have actually made any significant headway.

Math scores were also low—fewer than one-quarter of the 12th graders tested scored in the "proficient" range—but couldn’t be compared to previous students because they took a different test.

Daria Hall, assistant director of the Washington, D.C., nonprofit Education Trust, called the transcript study clear evidence of grade inflation, as well as "course inflation"—classes that have "the right names" but a dumbed-down curriculum.

"What it suggests is that we are telling students that they're being successful in these courses when, in fact, we're not teaching them any more than they were learning in the past," she said. "So we are, in effect, lying to these students."

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If schools stopped giving grades and instead focused on meaningful evaluations of student learning, we would know how well students were learning the material. There would be no "masking" of reality with the shiny veneer of grades.

Grades are subjective. When will people learn that?

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