The practice of promoting an elementary student to the next grade even though the student has not passed the coursework is called “social promotion.”
By the time we reach high school, the term involves “grade inflation” when higher grades are given for lower quality work, and “content deflation” when less work is required than before. Thanks to educationist fads like “mastery learning” where students repeat work until they “earn” an “A” or “B,” and standards and outcomes that reduce expectations to narrow test items, a higher number of high school students are receiving high grades.
The K-12 curriculum has become diluted to the point where foreign exchange students cruise through our coursework, as if on vacation, while our equivalent-level students struggle in foreign schools. And the ranks of our truly-A students are diluted with lesser students who have been misled to believe they are also A-students.
To be honest, there are still schools and teachers that maintain rigor and where an “A” still is an exceptional and uncommon grade.
But for students who have been misled into believing that they are “A” students, and aren’t, the harsh realities of university-level coursework are hard lessons. Broken dreams. Wasted money.
While the K-12 educational system in the U.S. is widely recognized internationally as mostly substandard, U.S. colleges and universities have so far been considered to be world class. This is about to change as social promotion comes to U.S. colleges.
The term is “retention” and the pressure is on for universities and colleges to increase retention of students. Not retention of students who can successfully do college work. Just retain the students, and continue the creeping grade inflation and content deflation that has riddled K-12 education.
I see the problem because it contrasts so dramatically with the rigorous system in China, where only students who pass the entrance exam can attend college. When I lectured there this last May, I asked a university official “How do you solve the problem of pressure from rich parents who have a student who doesn’t make the cut score on the leaving exam—your ‘B’ students?”
“No problem,” he replied. “Since these parents have the money to send their child overseas, many Chinese universities arrange exchange programs to improve their English and then send them to the U.S.” Thus the United States not only gets A-plus students from China, but also some B-students. This defuses the pressure from rich parents that would erode the academic integrity of the Chinese university system.
“Does this bother you?” he queried.
“No,” I replied. “Twenty years ago, of ten U.S. high school graduates in the United States, four would go to college. Three were college material. Today, seven-out-of-ten go to college. But still only three are really capable of genuine college-level bachelor’s degree work. Most of China’s B-students have the study skills and work ethic to beat those four-out-of-ten American students who are wasting our educational resources.”
John Richard Schrock trains biology teachers and lives in Emporia.