Do you know what your kids' grades mean? Most parents don't

We're a Baltimore County Public Schools family. Last June, toward the end of the school year, I asked a question that I had been wondering about for some time:

What is the actual distribution of letter grades given out by the school?

I was pleased and a little surprised that I got some numbers. All it took was a few months and one followup request. Here's the spring 2008 distribution at our middle school (for all kids, all classes and all grades):

A ]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]] 50%
B ]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]] 31%
C ]]]]]]] 13%
D ]] 4%
E ] 2%

We're not in Lake Wobegon territory yet, but we're getting close. The median grade is at the dividing line between a high B+ and a low A-.

After some conversations with other parents, it became clear to me that very few ask for this information and nearly all underestimate the extent to which grade inflation has taken hold. In other words, they don't know what their kids' grades mean.

So, next time you're looking over your child's report card, send a polite email to each of his teachers and ask for a decoder ring: the percentage distribution of letter grades. If your school is like ours you won't get it unless you ask for it.

UPDATE: Here's a somewhat-related article on some unusual things being done around the country to manipulate GPAs. (h/t Joanne Jacobs)


  1. If you want to know if those grades are inflated compare them with the state assessment MSAs. You can find the scores for every school here:


  2. Why even bother giving out grades at all if half the kids are getting A's and only 19% are getting less than a B? Why not do away with them entirely in favor of a different assessment system like portfolios?