Grades are the fundamental currency of our educational system; they signal academic achievement and non-cognitive skills to parents, employers, postsecondary gatekeepers, and students themselves. Grade inflation compromises the signaling value of grades, undermining their capacity to achieve the functions for which they are intended. We challenge the ‘increases in grade point average’ definition of grade inflation and argue that grade inflation must be understood in terms of thesignaling powerof grades. Analyzing data from four nationally representative samples, we find that in the decades following 1972: (a) grades have risen at high schools and dropped at four-year colleges, in general, and selective four-year institutions, in particular; and (b) the signaling power of grades has attenuated little, if at all.
Mathematics and science course graduation requirement (CGR) increases in the 1980s and 1990s might have had both intended and unintended consequences. Using logistic regression with Census and American Community Survey (ACS) data (n= 2,892,444), we modeled CGR exposure on (a) high school dropout, (b) beginning college, and (c) obtaining any college degree. Possible between-groups differences were also assessed. We found that higher CGRs were associated with higher odds to drop out of high school, but results for the college-level outcomes varied by group. Some were less likely to enroll, whereas others who began college were more likely to obtain a degree. Increased high school dropout was consistent across the population, but some potential benefit was also observed, primarily for those reporting Hispanic ethnicity.