A bell curve with standard deviations. Test curves mimic a bell curve: a graph that displays where the largest amount of scores are averaged with a few scores skewed above and below that average. PUBLIC DOMAIN

After taking a difficult exam, students are relieved to hear that their professor is curving their test grades. Test curves are a method in which a teacher adjusts the average score of an exam by moving students’ grades up a few points or even an entire letter grade. The scores mimic a bell curve: a graph that displays where the largest amount of scores are averaged with a few scores skewed above and below that average. This is so that the majority of students’ scores fall within that average. In most cases, when the largest number of scores are below average, a teacher may increase their students’ scores so that most of their grades on a test are considered “average.” Although a student’s grade point average (GPA) may benefit from test curves, their grades are no longer a real representation of their intelligence.

Students’ intelligence becomes reduced to the grades they receive after a curve, rather than the amount of work they put in for those grades. This unfairly restrains students because only a few are granted access to an above-average portion of the bell curve. For example, after a sum of test scores are released, the highest grade is a 93. The rest of the scores range between 30 and 60%. The student who scored a 93 now have a 100 and everyone’s score goes up by seven points. The student who scored a 60 — the second-highest score — now has a 67, a passing grade. Because the student with the highest score dictates the outcome of a test for everyone else taking it, a student’s focus shifts to making the cut-off score for a passing grade. 

Test curves do not show students the correct way to solve the questions they were given extra points for and do not show them why their answers were wrong. In most cases, students never get to learn about information they were confused about and are left in this state of confusion regarding the topic. An overwhelming 87% of students say that they do not feel prepared for college but still pursue a degree regardless. Students continue their academic careers without feeling confident in their own abilities about topics that remain uncertain to them. 

Looking at this issue on a larger scale, New York State examinations — such as the Regents — are also guilty of curving students’ test scores to a point where they feel knowledgeable on a subject when they are not. Students can aim for raw scores as low as a 34 and still receive a passing grade. This does not encourage students to study for exams. A student may get a passing grade of 65 on a Regents exam but this does not mean that they are ready for the next grade. Instead of helping students understand course material, the Regents continues to funnel students through coursework without a way for them to properly learn the course material. 


These nonrepresentative test scores allow for grade inflation to recur. Grade averages at Ivy League schools have been increasing for the past couple of decades. In the 1950s, the average letter grade among college students was a C+. In recent years, that average grade has soared to an A-. The question that arises is if students are gaining a proper education, or if they are just receiving letter grades that ultimately categorize their intellect. While students are graduating with high marks, they are still unfamiliar with their degree coursework and have no choice but to continue with their academic careers. 

Educational institutions obsess over their academic standing that they often forget the true intention of school: learning. Grades no longer reflect a student’s intellectual abilities and strengths. Without having sound knowledge in their fields of study, how are students able to find success in their professions? There is no curve in real life. There will not be anything there to inflate one’s reputation while trying to find a job. People who get hired may have exceptional grades, but they also have the raw intelligence to justify their knowledge — something that test curves completely avoid.


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