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The Live Wire

Increasing GPAs and declining mental health

As average GPAs increase nation-wide, Liberty students experience negative effects on mental health.
Many students push themselves to take many Advanced Placement classes in order to achieve a higher GPA.
Leela Strand
Many students push themselves to take many Advanced Placement classes in order to achieve a higher GPA.

Across the US, increasing average Grade Point Averages (GPA) present issues in middle schools, high schools, and colleges. Many are concerned grade inflation could devalue grades and force students to overwork themselves in order to stand out. 

“I do think Liberty has grade inflation. I think a C should be considered average and… it is not,” Ridley Hazeltine, 12. 

According to ACT, the average high school GPA increased from 3.17 in 2010 to 3.36 in 2021. Conversely, ACT and SAT scores have been on a steady decline for years. In 2022, ACT reported the fifth consecutive year of average score declines and the lowest average score since 1991, 19.5. Similar trends have been observed with average SAT scores. While GPAs increase, standardized tests show a decrease in performance. 

This suggests students are being given higher grades despite lower understanding or performance. However, this data may paint an inaccurate picture. 

Keaton Rickels, Dean of Students, noted, “I do feel that the skills that allow an individual to do well on a one-time standardized test are not always the same skills that can lead to a high GPA… [Also,] average standardized test scores have increased every year that [Liberty] has been open.”

As a top school in Iowa, Liberty is often above national standards. Rickels believes that Liberty contends with other struggles. The difference between students’ ability to understand content and their current understanding of content has long presented difficulties in grading. 

I think more common than grade inflation, I see students whose grades underrepresent their true ability to understand the content… due to poor work habits or incomplete assignments or even challenges that the student faces in their personal or home life…” said Rickels. 

Despite Liberty’s strengths, increasing average GPAs have the potential to impact students. Since COVID-19, many colleges have remained test-optional, meaning they don’t require applicants to submit standardized test scores. The rise of Chat GTP has put the validity of college essays into question. College interviews are highly subjective and often conducted simply by alumnus of the institution. It may be more difficult for colleges to compare students from these metrics.

While grading varies from school to school and even from teacher to teacher, many colleges promise to judge applications “in context.” Grades allow an opportunity for students to stand out amongst their peers in high school, especially when applying to competitive colleges. However, if the average student has a 3.36 GPA, meaning an average grade of B+ or A-, it is more difficult for students to stand out with grades. This may motivate students to take Advanced Placement (AP) heavy course loads in order to gain GPA boosts on the weighted scale.

“I think there are students who take more APs than is good for mental health to get a high GPA,” said Lilly Harris, 12. 

Furthermore, these factors place even more emphasis on extracurricular activities in college applications. Students can feel pressure to overcommit themselves in order to build competitive college applications.

“… Students who want to be [competitive] college applicants overcommit in both classes and extracurricular activities. The standard is being raised,” reflected Hazeltine.

Many organizations, including ACT, recommend more standardized systems to compare students. Liberty is moving towards a standards-based grading system. 

“This is a grading system where students are graded on their understanding of the state standards… [which] should be directly linked to student understanding,” said Rickels. 

Liberty is already ahead of the nation when it comes to increasing GPAs and grading inflation. Hopefully, standards-based grading will continue to improve student opportunity.

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About the Contributor
Leela Strand
Leela Strand, Managing Editor
Leela is a senior at Liberty High School. This is her second year on the Live Wire staff. At Liberty, Leela plays tennis and is part of SEA club. Outside of school, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, volunteering, and skiing, among other things.