Your Kid’s Grades May Not Accurately Reflect Where They're At Academically — Here Are The Questions You Should Be Asking

The Vice President of Education at Sylvan Learning talks grade inflation.

by Katie Cloyd
Shutterstock / - Yuri A

If there are two things parents universally want for their children, it’s for them to be happy and successful. We can measure success in innumerable ways. Kindness, empathy, passion, creativity, athleticism, and academics all fit the bill.

While some of those traits are easy enough to observe, as parents, it may be tough for us to accurately assess our kids’ academic progress. We’re used to relying on letter grades, but with the educational upheaval our kids have experienced schooling through a pandemic, it’s gotten a bit more complicated. You might see signs that your child seems to be struggling, only to find a passing or excellent grade on their report cards. It can be confusing.

You may be witnessing “grade inflation.” Emily Mitchell, Vice President of Education at Sylvan Learning, sat down with Scary Mommy to explain this practice and help parents figure out when their kids could benefit from additional instruction from an experienced Sylvan tutor to bolster their academic confidence.

What is grade inflation?

Grade inflation occurs when a teacher awards points for best effort and class participation. Grade inflation has increased since students returned to school after the distance learning that took place at the beginning of the pandemic.

“Many teachers knew that the students were recovering from a tough year and added some grace to their grading,” Mitchell explains. “It’s not unreasonable for them to do this. The disruption was hard on everyone, and grace-based grade inflation was coming from a place of kindness and concern.”

This isn’t a new or unusual practice; Mitchell has used this motivating tactic herself. “Teachers have always had some wiggle room when it comes to grading,” she says. “I used wiggle room myself when I was a classroom teacher. If a student had a 79%, for example, and I knew that student had been putting in hard work, I’d bump them to 80%, which gave them a B for the class instead of a C.”

Why is grade inflation a concern?

If your kid is passing, they’re doing well, right? Not necessarily. Your child may still be struggling to truly grasp the material, even if their report card doesn’t reflect it. “If a student is having a hard time following the lessons in class or struggles to complete the work and then gets an A or B, it sends a very mixed message,” Mitchell says.

When a child feels they’re struggling but still receives a high grade, it can be difficult for them to judge whether they’re meeting academic standards and teacher expectations. They can become anxious about learning new material when they feel an insecure grasp on their current assignments. “Nobody wins in that situation,” says Mitchell.

What can I do to evaluate my child’s academic progress if their grades aren’t always the most reliable measure of learning?

Mitchell encourages parents to collaborate with their children to get a sense of how they’re doing in school. Ask them how they feel about their understanding of the material. Look at their grades and any teacher feedback. Try to gauge how much difficulty they feel when doing homework.

It’s also perfectly acceptable to request time with your kids’ teachers and simply ask if their grades reflect things like effort and participation in addition to academic performance. Even the Vice President of Education for Sylvan Learning needs a little clarification sometimes!

“I had that situation myself last year for my son’s math class,” Mitchell says. “I had watched him struggle mightily with homework, and then was surprised when he came home with a B on the report card.” She immediately asked for some feedback from his teacher, who assured her it was a “real B” and not a “grace B.”

“I wasn’t lobbying for him to get a lower grade,” she explains. “I wanted to make sure he was ready for 7th grade.”

Don’t be afraid to trust your gut. Mitchell recognizes, as both a parent and an educator, that nobody knows your child better than you do. “If you think your child is struggling, regardless of what the report card indicates, it’s time to explore the situation,” she says.

How can Sylvan Learning help?

“This is Sylvan’s specialty area,” Mitchell explains. “We know which skills a student should know based on their school grade, and if the child is behind, we have over 40 years of experience helping children reach their academic goals.”

Right now, for just $49, your child can take Sylvan’s Insight Assessment, which will help identify exactly where your child needs help and allow Sylvan to create an individualized plan to help your child achieve their academic goals.

Sylvan Learning can also partner with your child’s teacher. Classroom assignments and Sylvan’s support go hand-in-hand. Sylvan Learning is focused on building academic confidence, igniting intellectual curiosity, and inspiring a love for learning — all of which make a significant impact in school and in life. ​Learn more at