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Grades: Masking the Value of the Deerfield Experience?

Despite grades on campus ranging from the upper 70’s to around 96, grade inflation cannot be definitively labeled as the source of the closeness of students’ grades. With a host of other confounding variables lurking in the background, there could be dozens of potential causes.

Perhaps today’s students are truly equal with their peers and thus, all the grades rightfully do hover together or perhaps there is indeed unintentional grade inflation on campus. Given the information available, however, I, like my peers, cannot definitively identify the reason as to why campus grades fall within less than thirty points of one another.

The murmurings of grade inflation creeping into campus dialogue, however, signifies an issue is present. It does not signify that grades themselves are an issue, but rather that the meaning of a Deerfield education is being lost in the trivial distinction between an 89 and a 91, realistically the difference of a multiple choice question or a simple arithmetic error on a test. Yet, when grades and quintiles are so close to one another, one could argue that the two points could actually mean a rather large difference in mastery of the material.

The goal of a Deerfield education is to equip students with the tools to succeed in the world beyond Boyden Lane, not to make sure that each student can correctly conjugate the verbs of the foreign language he studies or distinguish third person omniscient narration from limited third person. In life, far beyond college, I don’t know when I will need to recall upon my knowledge of the the specific differences between narration styles, but I do know that the skills I unintentionally picked up as I worked my way through The Odyssey or the study of statistics, like balancing a demanding schedule or expressing my thoughts with others through writing, will serve me long after I leave the Pioneer Valley.

The value of a Deerfield education far exceeds the numbers on a transcript. How do you measure that which cannot be quantified? Does a 69 on my freshman year Chemistry final really do justice to the skills I learned as I persevered my way through the course? When students realize this hidden value, courses shift from being centered around numbers to material, with grades becoming byproducts of learning. Murmurings of grade inflation, however, threaten the integrity of academics at Deerfield because they steer the focus of academics towards numbers.

Hypothetical grade inflation is not a “problem” that needs to be “fixed.” Rather this discussion is the perfect opportunity to evaluate Deerfield academics. As we stand in the midst of the reaccreditation process and Imagine Deerfield campaign, there is no better time to ensure that academics reflect their mission.