Grade inflation has led to higher GPAs and many valedictorians

When it comes to academic rigor at Cherry Hill High School East, nearly all students can relate to the competition faced daily. Constant stress over upcoming deadlines, joy over high marks and comparisons of test grades can be heard throughout the school’s hallways on a daily basis, no doubt due to this extreme level of competition.

However, in recent years, a new trend has risen. Currently, there is an ongoing inflation in the grades of students at East. This inflation is due to a plethora of different reasons, ranging from COVID-19 to advancements in East’s overall grading system. Regardless, this movement has led to inflated Grade Point Averages (GPAs) and class ranks over the past few years. 

With so many students having inflated grades, GPAs and class ranks, what could go wrong? 

Many students may look at this recent inflation and feel gratitude, without realizing the potential detriments to the overall student body at East.

In the class of 2013, 105 kids retained a GPA of 6.0 or higher. Fast forward to a decade later, and the class of 2023 contains 208 kids that maintain a GPA of 6.0 or higher. With the amount of students retaining a GPA of at least 6.0, East’s class rankings are skewed to an extreme.

East Principal Dr. Dennis Perry, explained that the recent inflation in GPA has been directly related to COVID-19. With classes shortened and a modified grading system implemented, students were given lots of grace. Because of these practices’ effects on GPAs, the amount of valedictorians at East was also influenced greatly. 

East typically has many valedictorians each year, often staying in the range of 10 and 12. Give or take a few, this is a trend that East has seen for decades. However, the class of 2022 had 18 students bearing the “top student” label. This abrupt increase in valedictorians, said Dr. Dennis Perry, with COVID-19 being mostly to blame.  Perry believes that as more time from COVID-19 passes, a more traditional number of valedictorians will return. 

Although COVID-19 exists as a reason for inflation in a students GPAs, East’s grading structure also plays a role. Compared to other high schools, the high schools in Cherry Hill utilize a letter system rather than numerical grading when it comes to calculating GPA. Essentially, this means that a student maintaining all 90s and another student maintaining all 99s would both receive the exact same GPA and class rank.

“Changing [the grading style] to percentages would increase the competition students feel between each other,” Perry told Eastside. He believes that students could be motivated to refuse to help a friend with schoolwork because of how a single digit in one grade could significantly alter a student’s class ranking. This would escalate the ambitious environment among students.

A student nowadays can maintain a GPA of 6.0 and still be ranked 200th out of 500 students. The rising trend in class rank and GPA can be harmful for East’s students, as they may feel demotivated with their class rank (especially when submitting it to colleges). This can weaken a person’s college resume.

“If someone has a 6.0, that’s still a relatively good [GPA],” said Prisha Mathur (‘25). “But they still have to tell their college applications that they’re ranked 200th, and that makes them seem less impressive overall as a student.”

If a student with a GPA that would still be considered above average could have their college chances destroyed by their high school class rank, this could lead to self esteem issues at an already vulnerable time for the student. College applications have been proven to be one of the most vulnerable times for students, as they are forced to compare themselves to their peers and reflect on how they could have performed better.

Additionally, students may feel demotivated after learning they have been ranked so low in their class, even if they retain an above-average GPA. Not having done well in comparison to their peers may cause anxiety or self-doubt leading well into college, and possibly impacting a student’s entire future.

And yet, East’s inflation of GPAs has led to many confidence boosters for students. A student who may have had a 5.5 GPA may now have a GPA of over 6.0, as many more students have been receiving As. 

With East’s GPA inflation, a surplus in valedictorians have emerged. Some may argue that this is a great thing, as these students now stand a better chance at their dream colleges and better self esteem.

“What is the harm in recognizing five, ten, fifteen students as valedictorian and having that support for the next steps they want to take after high school versus the harm in not allowing that differentiation to occur as they move forward?” said Perry. 

The occurrence of GPA inflation exists as both harm and good at Cherry Hill East. It can be damaging for the students by affecting their motivation; however, it can also do good by giving some students more opportunities. As more and more time passes from COVID-19, it’s hard to determine if the incline will continue in the future.