Honor Roll: Do the Math

At a secondary school renowned for its rigorous academics, it is somewhat disconcerting to hear that almost half the student body qualified for the Honor Roll last term. Although Phillips Academy’s History and Social Science Department Chair Victor Henningsen ’69 assures that grade inflation does not result from a decrease in the expectations of the faculty or an increase in the intelligence level of the student body, one cannot help but question why exactly grades have risen so dramatically in the past few years. The most important question posed, however, is not why, but how grade inflation affects the Phillips Academy community as a whole. Grade inflation is not necessarily detrimental to the reputation of the school; in fact, it is actually somewhat advantageous, for it imparts a stronger work ethic and encourages students to excel both in and outside the classroom. Knowing that the realization of a place on the respected Honor Roll is nearly as tangible as the crisp white certificate of merit itself motivates students to succeed academically. While Andover students come from a myriad of ethnic, demographic, and socioeconomic backgrounds and vary significantly in extracurricular interests, they matriculate with one common characteristic: a previously strong academic record. Students enter the school knowing how to work hard. Yet, the challenging must be separated from the impossible: increasing the level of difficulty required to receive an Honors grade would be a blow not only to the high school transcripts of numerous members of the community, but also to the confidence students have in themselves. The fact is that grade inflation has not mitigated competition between peers. Although teachers may be apt to give more 5’s now than in previous years, as Mr. Henningsen said, “the grade of 6 seems to have retained its exclusivity.” 6’s distinguish the good student from the one that pursues true academic excellence. Forty-seven percent of the student body may receive honors in a given term; yet, only the top 20 percent of the Senior class graduates as members of the Cum Laude Society. As the majority of Cum Laude appointees hold GPA’s between 5.2 and 5.6, 6’s are necessary in order to qualify. One could argue that grade inflation hurts one’s chances of getting into college. Yet, as Dean Avery notes, Phillips Academy does not follow the nation’s four-point grading system; thus, reducing grade inflation could potentially put an Andover student at a disadvantage when he or she is compared to one whose grades comply with the uniform scale. It also must be taken into account that a student’s high school transcript is only one factor in the college admissions process. Standing on a solid academic foundation, students possess more freedom to explore extracurricular interests and develop a well-balanced resume. Yes, the percentage of students who make honor roll increased since last year- but so did the percentage of students admitted to college. The class of 2002 yielded a 45 percent acceptance rate. This year’s Senior class enjoyed a 50 percent mark. Anyone can do the math.