Brooks Bowden highlights consequences of lenient grading in "The Economist"

March 15, 2024
Penn GSE Associate Professor Brooks Bowden leaning against a chalkboard

Joe McFetridge for Penn GSE

In an article for The Economist discussing falling standards in American high schools, Brooks Bowden, associate professor in the Policy, Organizations, Leadership, and Systems Division of Penn GSE — along with collaborators Viviana Rodriguez and Zach Weingarten — investigates the consequences of a more lenient grading policy introduced by North Carolina public high schools in 2014.

Their investigation shows that introducing a grading scale leading to more As and fewer Fs has led to a decrease in attendance and effort among students with lower test scores, in stark contrast to unaffected high-scoring students. Despite a minor uptick in graduation rates, the policy has notably widened the academic gap between higher and lower achievers, as seen in disparities in GPAs and standardized test scores.

Bowden comments on the implications of these findings, stating, “I don’t think we’re helping anybody by handing out higher grades or giving out graduation certificates.” She underscores the broader concern that lowering academic standards might harm the very students they are meant to support, rather than providing them with a meaningful education and genuine opportunities for success.

Read more at The Economist.