Kids Doing Too Well In School

Grades don't mean what they once meant.

From what we hear, they could relax year-round and still get good grades, because grading isn't what it used to be.

Jimmy Davis, a student at Harvard, says he knows students who get B's and B minuses while doing less than 5 percent of the course's assigned reading. He claims that F's "have been taken out of the English language for all intents and purposes at Harvard."

"A" used to mean excellence — that you had mastered the material. C was average, and F's were for the students who partied too much. When I graduated from college in 1969, 25 percent of the students got C's or lower and just 7 percent got A's. Today it's reversed: 26 percent get A's and just 9 percent get C's or lower.

Grade inflation is even more dramatic at Harvard. Today, most Harvard grades are A's.

Harvey C. Mansfield, a government professor at Harvard who has battled grade inflation for years, calls the situation "a scandal."

'Flattery of Students'

"It's flattery of students to tell them that they are better than they are," he says. "There's something sick about that."

Out of the group of five students whom I interviewed, only one had ever received a C at Harvard.

"To give a student at C is like plunging a sword into his vitals," says Mansfield.

Last year, even Mansfield decided to give his students a break. He surprised his class by saying he would give each student two grades: The grade they earned, and then a higher grade for their school record.

Grade inflation at Harvard has grown so bad that the university's newspaper published a letter from a graduate school professor saying: "You can no longer trust grades you see on a transcript from Harvard." An A, the letter said, has lost its luster because it doesn't even mean that the student learned the material.

In a letter to ABCNEWS, Harvard admits that "grade inflation has become a serious problem and that steps should be taken to combat it." I won't hold my breath waiting for the "steps." They've been talking about this for years.

And one student I interviewed, Shannon Christmas, says he doesn't see the problem. "I don't really think that there's anything called grade inflation going on here," he says. "Maybe students are deserving the grades that they're getting." Perhaps, he says, students are just smarter than when I was in college.

Really? Students at Harvard and all over America are just getting smarter? Give me a break!

This story originally aired on March 9, 2001.