When Did Average Become Below Average?

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Not Sad, But True.Question:  In your school or community, how many students made the Honor Roll?

Answer:  Most of them (no, I’m not a psychic… but I did play one on TV).

If you don’t believe me (and thank you for calling me a liar), the next time it’s in your local paper count the number of students listed.

Then compare it to the number enrolled.

You will discover what many educators already know.  The majority of students do VERY well.

At least with their grades.

We are raising a generation of students who believe success is the only option.

The Honor Roll is way different from students doing well on mandated testing. 

Or the ACT or SAT.

Turns out when Honor Roll students take these tests, some do great… some do “not as” great (which is okay, or at least it should be okay).

What is it about our society that we’ve come to believe every student must be successful?

I always thought you learned more from failure than from success.  More from losing than winning (and I speak as someone who has lost a lot).

Why aren’t C’s okay?

When did average become disappointing?

Did the Honor Roll expand around the same time we started giving out participation trophies?

Does every kid have to be recognized as being good at everything?

Shouldn’t the majority of students in any class be average?

Shouldn’t half get C’s and above and the other half C’s and below?

Isn’t that okay?

I wonder if we are doing more harm than good when we promote false expectations in students (and parents… not that there are any parents with unrealistic expectations… I’m just throwing it out there).

When report cards go home, shouldn’t parents be more concerned about how much their child has learned rather than what grade they’ve received?

Wouldn’t C’s be great if the student was 100 times smarter at the end of school  year?

As opposed to receiving all A’s and B’s and only being 10 times smarter?

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13 Responses to “When Did Average Become Below Average?”


  1. Carol
    on Nov 11th, 2010
    @ 1:01 pm

    I was never a fan of the participation trophy. (and my kid got her share of them) Awards should be for something amazing and spectacular. You get awards for being the best, not for just “being”.

    I teach at a private school. Parents pay a lot of tuition and they expect their child to get good grades. Of course As are preferred. I just had a student’s grade drop to a B+ and I got a phone call from the parent wanting to know what “we” were going to do about it. I said “we” weren’t going to do anything but that her daughter could study more for the next test.


  2. Brandon Lavaley (@blavaley)
    on Nov 11th, 2010
    @ 2:34 pm

    I had this exact conversation with a few teachers this week. Our school is a small, rural school with a graduating class averaging near 30 students. However, when we look at graduating GPAs, nearly every student is at a C or above. This is not an honest representation of what these students have achieved or are capable of doing after high school. Unfortunately, the parents only way to quantify achievement is through grades, whether it is a true representation of achievement or includes behaviors (grading practices could make for a lengthy second discussion). It should be about the growth and what the student learns throughout the year, NOT what that final grade says. It will take a great effort from teachers and school districts, but if uniformity can be reached in a district, it will become much easier to educate the masses vested in that district. You presented great thoughts…thank you so much!!

    Brandon Lavaley (@blavaley)


  3. Nick James
    on Nov 11th, 2010
    @ 2:39 pm

    The “success” of everyone is a reason the high school diploma is becoming less useful. People generally think of how the diploma is less useful to graduates, but few seem to take it a step further and think about how it isn’t very useful to employers anymore. If every student is getting A’s in every subject, which most people in a regular conversation will agree is unreasonable (except for their child, of course), employers cannot tell which people to hire and colleges and other training programs can’t really determine which students to accept.

    The practice erodes the entire system. While I want all of my students to do well, I know that is not in their best interest, nor is it in our society’s best interest, to give out only A’s. Unfortunately, teachers and administrators are pressured to hand them out like candy.


  4. Melanie
    on Nov 11th, 2010
    @ 6:49 pm

    In addition to this trend, I have noticed another trend. Apparently now you are only successful if you attend college. We are desperate for trained, skilled workers in America, but we do not encourage students to pursue vocational studies, even when we know they would be better in that arena than attending college. I don’t understand why working as a plumber or welder and making 100,000 is worse than working as a teacher making 34,000.

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @Melanie, Vocational Rules!.


  5. Warren Purdy
    on Nov 12th, 2010
    @ 9:30 pm

    An interesting topic and I use ‘interesting’ because I don’t really understand your honour roll system. I guess it’s a bit like an effort or diligence prize but I’m not sure. If it is – what’s the harm if it’s deserved? This is different to a ‘educational standards are slipping’ feeling surely (I didn’t mean to call you Shirley – sorry). But maybe I’m wrong and the honour role is wrapped up in an ability score.

    I love the way the Uk education deals with this standards are slipping thing – they create ever higher grade categories. When I taught there, there were A star grades above the A. Fascinating.

    Sidebar: Now in the UAE. My timing is impeccible – arrived at the start of a two week holiday break!


  6. Debbie
    on Nov 14th, 2010
    @ 4:51 pm

    Where is the “LIKE” button!? This is such great timing – as we were just discussing this in my house and at team meetings! It makes me think about the slogan “It’s always a tie at the Y” when it comes to sports. Yes recognizing participation is great, but to be the best you need to “see” the one who is the best! How do we know where we’re going if we can’t see it?


  7. eduguy101
    on Nov 15th, 2010
    @ 11:39 am

    This is always a topic of conversation. We get over 50% of our kids on honor roll yet this does not reflect achievement. How is that?

    It is so much like a participation trophy.

    Perhaps honor roll should be made extinct.

    The flip side is that my NJHS is highly selective and average is a small qualifier. It basically gets the door open. We weigh our application, service and letters of recommendation more heavily.

    Great post


  8. Sarah Auskalnis
    on Nov 16th, 2010
    @ 12:32 am

    Hi, I am a student at Trinity Christian College and a future teacher. First, I would like to point out that, although at first responding to your blog was just an assignment, I have to say that your posts intrigued me This article in particular caught my eye because I am constantly having debates about grading systems with others, and it is a very controversial subject. Schools are getting more and more competitive and with that comes raising the bar (and the grading scales). My own opinion is that we should knock out letter grades completely and grade on progress, effort, individuality, etc…but that is definately not going to change anytime soon. Even with that said…some schools are having an 80% be equivalent to a C, or a C-. It blows my mind to think that students can do and get right eighty percent of the work and only get a C for the class, and it’s only considered average. On the other hand, teachers feel like they shouldnt “give out” too many A’s. Or what you said “too many kids are making the honor roll.” With grading systems as hard as they are, and students making a huge effort in their schoolwork, I think all of those students probably deserved to be on honor roll. I could talk on and on all day about this, but I’ll probably get back to reading more blog entries you wrote. Thanks for sharing, it keeps me entertained!


  9. Bill
    on Nov 17th, 2010
    @ 8:06 pm

    You’re confusing a couple different meanings of the word “average”. The reason that the majority of students can get A’s or B’s is because the grades are criterion-referenced. For example: It is possible (though unlikely) for every single student in a class to get a 100% on every spelling test. If they did then every student would get and A+ in spelling. The grades simply reflect the “average” of these test scores. If most students are getting good grades, the teacher is doing a good job. Either that or the curriculum is too easy. The reason that students don’t all get good grades on their ACT, SAT, etc is because those tests are norm-referenced. These tests compare one student with another instead of against a standard. The “average” score (a C for example) being the score the most students got. This can vary from year to year. These tests force the nice bell curve that you imply should be there in a report card. These tests are designed to find the cream of the crop. If report card grades were done in the same way you could, in theory, have students getting 80s on their spelling tests and still getting a D – which would definitly get some angry calls from parents.


  10. Nora
    on Nov 26th, 2010
    @ 5:51 pm

    As long as administrators back parents who are upset when their children earn poor grades and make your professional life immensely difficult until you change said grades, then there will be far too many underachieving students on the honor roll. Colleges are starting to see this and aren’t interested in what a student’s gpa is as it only as authentic as the administration running a school district. And, most certainly, good colleges know which high schools are more worried about parents and false self esteem than they are about authenticity. When a teacher has to worry about receiving counseling memos because blackhawk parents are in control of a district, then grades will continue to be high. It’s simply not worth the professional stress involved.


  11. Todd
    on Nov 26th, 2010
    @ 8:29 pm

    I am a Building Inspector by trade. The Building Code is the minimum set of standards acceptable for certain types of construction. Some owners pay architects to design over the minimum for one reason or the other. However, I will never approve construction which does not meet the minimum qualifications. I make contractors tear things down all the time, costing someone money and time on a schedule. If you teachers would like to discuss what it is like being pressured, I’ll take a snooty parent or administrator over an angry developer who just lost three weeks of a tight schedule that includes $5,000.00 per day late in fees, and having to pat twice for the same work – just to get it done right! When it comes to “Life Safety” issues there are no compromises. Also, if concrete is scheduled to pour at 3:00 am, we are there at 2:30 am to get started, if a truck is standing longer than 60 minutes, it’s turned away. And, the work day still ends at 3:00 pm!

    All we “parents” want, is for you “teachers and administrators” to do your jobs! Stop figuring out ways to dumb down scores. If your district gives you a curriculum, it is a minimum standard. I doubt there would be many complaints upon exceeding the minimum, providing your presentation makes students thirst for more.

    This is the art of teaching.


  12. Nicola
    on Nov 26th, 2010
    @ 8:45 pm

    Students desperately need good administrators who allow professionals to do their job. Rigor is a good thing in school, and should be seen as such. Dumbing down content so that more students can be above average and therefore data will look very good, does an incredible disservice to students. And aren’t students who should be serviced here, not parents?

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