GRADE INFLATION: Is an A Still an A? Educators Question Use of High Marks
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Americans like fast food.
They zip in the drive-through and zip out.
To hear many educators tell it, Americans like fast grades, too:
“Give me straight A’s but hold the mental sweat and homework.”
At a time when teachers complain many students are lazy and
refuse even to open a classic such as “To Kill A Mockingbird,”
grades never have been better.
Grade inflation – the idea that grades have gone up but their
value down – has emerged as a major national education issue.
It’s a big concern in this state as well, a survey by The
Seven out of 10 high school teachers said grade inflation has
occurred over the last decade, meaning the quality of work rewarded
with a certain grade 10 years ago receives a higher grade today.
More than 150 Oklahoma City-area teachers participated in the survey.
“I have a concern with how easy we seem to be making it for our
students,” said Joann Massengale, a Noble High School English
“Teachers get the idea from parents not to be too hard on little
Johnny… Thus, we can’t hurt Johnny’s feelings – we need to cater
to how this grade he is making may give him a poor outlook on life.”
But Pam Cox, a Yukon High School chemistry teacher, said
students today “know so much more” than past generations.
“The amount of material my students cover in class now compared
to what I covered in the same class in high school is unreal,” Cox
said. “There are so many opportunities for students at the high
But she said, “It is a shame that many students are in classes
with students who are outlaws.”
‘What’s Wrong With You?’
Thirty-six percent of teachers surveyed said someone within
their school – a principal, a coach, a counselor – has pressured
them to change a student’s grade.
More common than overt pressure, teachers who fail too many
students receive “counseling” on how to improve grades, others said.
Christine Bond, an advanced-placement U.S. history teacher at
Northeast Academy of Health Sciences and Engineering, said a
grade’s value depends on the school.
Bond recalled teaching at Tulsa McLain High School, where she
said the valedictorian made a 16 on the ACT college-entrance exam.
“I started where the students were at,” she said. “An A here is
nothing like an A there.
“As a teacher, there’s pressure. If you’ve got over half your
class failing, they’re going to come say, ‘What’s wrong with you?'”
Clifton Ogle, a U.S. Grant High School science teacher, said
parents often ask him to alter grades.
Many students just want to pass, and their parents want them to
receive a grade for little or no work, said Ogle, state president
of the Oklahoma Federation of Teachers.
A teacher’s professional judgment should be enough to determine
a student’s grade, he said.
But if a teacher fails too many students, questions arise.
“The principal wants to be sure you are justified in giving
those grades,” Ogle said. “The counselors want to know if there was
some reason for the grade being given. The parents want to know how
the grade was determined and if there is anything their child can
do to make it up.”
Of course, sometimes the teacher is the problem.
Edmond North High School junior Daniel Dorsey, 16, said he had a
coach/teacher who assigned essays nearly every week – but didn’t
“Every time, I would write three sentences on the topic and then
the rest would be over a page of how much I despised the teacher,”
Dorsey said. “I would ask him in each essay to initial next to the
lines where I would say stuff about him, if he was reading this.
“And I’d get it back every time and have a B or a high A, just
‘Cheat, Steal or Lie’
El Reno High School teacher Karen Jennings said the A honor roll
includes students who haven’t scored above a 19 on the ACT or
passed their criterion-referenced tests.
“Students who copy homework or classwork are rewarded with A’s
very often,” said Jennings, who teaches chemistry and physics.
Ten years ago, students seemed more concerned about learning,
said Martha Wissler, an Edmond Memorial High School teacher.
“There seems to be a present-day attitude that learning is
secondary to the grade,” Wissler said. “If one has to cheat, steal
or lie to get good grades or anything else, it’s OK.”
In examining grading issues in Oklahoma, The Oklahoman surveyed
or interviewed nearly 500 students, teachers, counselors and
Among the findings:
– For many students, making the grade – be it a C to appease
parents or an A to impress college recruiters – is more important
than how the grade is obtained. Many students admit cheating.
– Many school districts have lowered grading scales, making it
easier to make A’s and harder to fail. Nine out of 10 schools have
adopted grading scales where 90 is an A, 80 is a B, 70 is a C, 60
is a D and 59 and below is an F. Surveys were returned by 233
public and private high schools.
– At some schools, such as McAlester High School, roughly
two-thirds of students have A or B averages.
As Lucy Smith, superintendent of McAlester’s 3,000-student
school district, puts it, “A ‘C’ is not an average grade anymore,
if it ever was.”
– And at a few schools, it’s impossible to make an F – school
officials have outlawed them.
In Quinton, the worst a student can do is an NG, which stands
for “no grade.”
“It figures in with anybody else’s transcript as an F,” Quinton
Principal Darrell Adcock said. “But we’re trying to be positive.
There’s too much negativism in education.”
Tape Barney, Please
Increased competition for college scholarships. Pressure put on
teachers by parents and administrators. More personal relationships
between students and teachers – all contribute to grade inflation,
Could it also be that students really are smarter?
Ulrich Neisser thinks so.
Neisser, a Cornell University psychology professor, wrote “The
Rising Curve.” The book, released earlier this year, concerns IQ
scores, which Neisser said have been rising for decades.
An average IQ is 100.
But to maintain that average, the test makers keep developing
new tests or changing the scoring system, Neisser said.
“If a lot of people today were to take the IQ test as it was in
1932, they’d get an average of probably about 120,” Neisser said.
“If the people in 1932 could by some miracle take the test … in
the 1990s, they’d probably get about 80.”
Among possible reasons for rising IQ’s, Neisser said, are better
nutrition, more emphasis on education and the growth of technology,
from television to video games to computers.
“We have made real gains in abstract reasoning ability and
visual pattern perception,” Neisser said.
“My favorite example is programming the VCR. The 6-year-old in
your household can program the VCR, but your parents can’t.”
His Phone, His Future
Jacquith Farris, 17, can’t help but feel the pressure.
The Northeast Academy junior understands the ramifications of
Grades will determine his future, what college he can get into,
he said. But the Oklahoma City student has a more immediate
concern: contact with the outside world.
“If you come home with anything less than a C, everything’s cut
off,” he said.
“No car. No phone. No nothing. No social life. I don’t like
staying at my house all the time.”
On the other hand, Northeast Academy junior Teneca Pleasant, 16,
said she puts pressure on herself.
“A lot of people in my family didn’t go to college, and they
struggle, and I don’t want to struggle,” she said. “Grades and
doing good in school is my way out.”
Edmond North senior Amanda Thomas, 19, said making A’s is too
easy. She said she skips as much school as she attends and turns in
as many assignments as she doesn’t.
“And I’m going to graduate on time with a 3.0,” a B average,
Grades mean everything – and nothing at all – to Krista Barr.
Everything, because the Yukon senior hopes to make it into
veterinary school. Nothing, because grades can’t tell what she
“My grade in advanced-placement Chemistry II is not where I
would like,” said Barr, who is making a B. “But I know that I try
my hardest and have learned more… than if I would have taken a
regular science course.”
Yukon senior Brian Hooge, 17, said grades aren’t as important as
how much effort he puts into an assignment.
But to appease parents and teachers, he said he makes A’s.
“I think that to colleges, your ACT score is more important,”
Hooge said. “I have a 31, and it is the sole factor in all of my
scholarships so far.”
With so many students making high grades, some universities rely
increasingly on college-entrance exams to sort out the top high
In 1970, 16 percent of students taking the ACT reported 3.5 to
4.0 grade-point averages.
That number has more than doubled, hitting 36 percent in 1998.
“ACT scores are probably not as high as they were on average in
1970, but the students are getting much higher grades,” ACT
spokesman Kelley Hayden said.
Thirty-eight percent of students who took the SAT last year
listed themselves as A students. That’s up from 28 percent in 1988.
In the same 10-year period, A students’ average SAT scores fell.
“It just indicates that grades don’t mean what they used to mean
and possibly that SAT scores are even more important for admissions
decisions by colleges,” said Janice Gams, spokeswoman for the
College Board, which administers the SAT.
However, a separate “score inflation” debate surrounds the ACT
About 60,000 students pay $ 700 to $ 2,000 apiece for private
tutoring companies to boost their entrance-exam scores, claims Fair
Test, a Cambridge, Mass., group that monitors standardized tests.
“How can a college know how much a particular applicant’s score
was boosted by coaching?” asked Fair Test spokesman Robert
But Larry Kruse, Oklahoma State University’s high school and
college relations director, said exam coaching is not a concern.
Kruse declined to comment on grade inflation. However, he said
about 66 percent of Oklahoma State University freshmen expect to
make A’s, based on their high school experience.
“Sixty-six percent won’t make A’s,” Kruse said. “But their
expectation level is very high.”
Last fall, one Oklahoma school district attacked grade
inflation. As part of a plan to raise standards, the McAlester
School District changed its grading scale.
Suddenly, students needed to score 93 to make an A. The lowest
passing grade, a D, was raised to 63. Within three years, school
officials planned to make 70 the minimum to pass.
“We felt our grades were inflated,” Superintendent Smith said.
“We had a great majority of our kids, 60 to 70 percent, making A’s
But the attack on grade inflation lasted only about nine weeks.
The school board changed its mind when the first-quarter report
cards went out and parents were furious when their children brought
home lower grades.
Parents feared their children would suffer in scholarship
competition with schools that use lower grading scales.
That’s the reason the Oklahoma City School District lowered its
grading scale about five years ago, Assistant Superintendent Guy
Although school transcripts list the grading scale, “the concern
is, do admissions offices really look at that, or do they just scan
the letter grades and formulate a judgment?” Sconzo said.
Who’s No. 1?
Phillip Key is valedictorian of his senior class. Actually, he’s
one of 73 valedictorians in Westmoore High School’s 550-student
Class of 1999.
“It’s not quite as prestigious,” Key, who has a 4.55 grade-point
average, said of sharing the recognition with 72 classmates.
At Westmoore, everyone with a 4.0 or higher grade-point average
earns valedictorian honors. At one time, a 4.0 grade-point average
was perfect. But about half of Oklahoma high schools have adopted
weighted grades, which give students extra grade points as an
incentive to take courses such as physics and calculus.
“Because of the extra point that they give for honors (courses),
it makes it fairly easy to have above a 4.0,” Key said. “If you’ve
got all honors classes and you’ve got straight B’s, you’ve still
got a 4.0.”
Westmoore is not alone in recognizing multiple valedictorians.
Carl Albert High School in Midwest City has 47 valedictorians out
of 241 seniors. At Tuttle High School, 19 of this year’s 94
graduates share the title.
The University of Oklahoma limits its valedictorian scholarships
to one student per school, but OSU will give a scholarship to
anyone named a valedictorian, Tuttle counselor Donna McMillan said.
While many schools name lots of valedictorians, others, such as
Nowata High School, don’t pick any.
Charles Sykes, author of “Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American
Kids Feel Good, But Can’t Read, Write or Add,” said many schools
nationally have abolished valedictorians or watered down the honor
to avoid competition.
No school has 50 starting quarterbacks or 50 prom queens, he
“What is wrong with singling out somebody and saying they are
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Travis Austin squirmed in his seat and tried to ignore his
classmates’ accusatory stares.
Conversation in his advanced-placement English class had turned
All eyes focused on him.
His crime: The Northeast Academy of Health Sciences and
Engineering junior had raised his hand when a stranger asked if any
student never cheated on homework or tests.
“Oh, Travis, no, no, no, let’s not bring up middle school,” one
“I never cheated in middle school,” Travis replied.
“Travis, back up, you’re going to get hit by that bolt of
lighting,” another classmate said.
‘It’s Almost Impossible’
In the last year of the 1900s, when even the president of the
United States admits cheating on his wife, classmates found Travis’
“It’s very hard to believe one person hasn’t cheated at least
once in their life,” one student said. “It’s almost impossible.”
In visits with more than 80 students at four metro area schools
– Oklahoma City’s Northeast Academy, Edmond North High School,
Noble High School and Yukon High School – The Oklahoman found
students surprisingly candid about cheating.
Like Travis, a few students maintain they don’t cheat.
“I’ve never cheated in my life because I was taught that you
make what you earn,” said Travis, 17, who has a 3.3 grade-point
average and plans to double-major in music and business at Oklahoma
Edmond North sophomore Brigette Masterson, 16, said she doesn’t
make the best grades but is proud of herself when she studies.
“When I don’t study, I deserve the grade I get,” Brigette said.
“It makes me quite upset when I fail a test and see the straight-A
cheerleader next to me cheating because she didn’t study.
“It’s not fair to anyone. Just take what you deserve.”
However, many students have no problem cheating – or admitting
Boring teacher? Cheat.
Too much homework? Cheat.
No time to study for the test? Cheat.
Sage Ross, a Yukon senior with a 4.26 grade-point average, said
he never has needed to cheat on a test.
“I have copied busy work before when I knew the material and
didn’t want to waste my time,” said Ross, 17, who plans to attend
the University of Oklahoma on a full scholarship and major in
chemistry and chemistry engineering.
In a creative-writing class at Edmond North, students enjoyed a
laugh when asked if anyone cheats.
“Everyone copies at least one answer a day,” said sophomore
Amirald Gee, 16. “Straight-A students copy answers down.”
In a Noble classroom, inspirational posters encourage students
to “Never settle for less than your best” and to “Let the choices
you make today be the choices you can live with tomorrow.”
Another poster declares: “Success is a do-it-yourself project.”
Of course, many students find that notion humorous.
“Sure, everyone cheats,” said Noble junior Kris Davis, 17. “I
would say at least one person cheats on every test. I’ve
cheated. Who doesn’t?”
‘Look at Our President’
Back in Travis’ English class at Northeast Academy, senior
LaQuesha McClain, 18, theorized that multiple-choice tests
basically regurgitate facts.
“I don’t think you’re going to learn much, so it really wouldn’t
matter if you cheated or not,” said LaQuesha, Northeast’s
salutatorian with a 4.47 grade-point average.
On a multiple-choice test, where students pick A, B, C, D or E,
they have a 20 percent chance of getting each answer right, she
noted. Moreover, how’s the teacher going to know whether two
students cheated or whether both studied and made 100’s, she asked?
“So, that’s the reason why we cheat,” LaQuesha said, “because we
can get away with it.”
As a senior, she said she doesn’t have any classes where she can
“But my sophomore year, I had a few classes where you could
cheat and get away with it, so I have cheated.”
Seyan Harms, 18, valedictorian of Yukon High School’s
468-student Class of 1999, said cheating is a problem everywhere.
“Just look at our president,” she said.
Seyan, who has a 4.3 grade-point average, said she never has
cheated on a test or a “notable homework assignment.” Cheating is
more of a problem when teachers just give “busy work.”
People cheat because they’re not prepared or they’re lazy, she
“Unfortunately, this doesn’t apply just to slackers,” Seyan
said. “It applies to almost everybody. To say that anybody has
never cheated would be a lie.
“It happens to the best of the best.”
‘Cheating Is Wrong’
In Travis’ English class, students were asked about a 1998
national poll by “Who’s Who Among American High School Students.”
Four out of five teens at the top of their classes said they got
there the easy way, according to the 29th annual “Survey of High
Achievers” by Who’s Who. Eighty percent of students surveyed
admitted cheating during their impressive academic careers.
“Nineteen of the other 20 percent are lying!” responded a
In the same Who’s Who survey, 46 percent of students pointed to
“declining social and moral values” as the biggest problem facing
“In all likelihood, when these kids look at the examples now
being set by traditional role models – the president, business
leaders, Hollywood stars, even the clergy – they have an easier
time excusing their own behavior,” said Joe Krouse, associate
publisher of Who’s Who.
So, do teens not consider cheating a moral problem?
“No, cheating is wrong. Cheating is morally wrong,” said
Northeast junior William Clark, 16.
“But sometimes, you rationalize it. When you rationalize it,
it’s a good thing,” he said, drawing laughter from classmates.
“After a closer evaluation, it’s not as good.”
Among other survey data:
Nine out of 10 high school teachers said cheating is a problem
in their schools, according to a 1998 American School Board Journal
national survey. Half of the 356 teachers surveyed said they
encounter students cheating in most of their classes.
In another national survey, 70 percent of high school students
and 54 percent of middle school students said they had cheated on
an exam in the last 12 months. That survey of more than 20,000
students was conducted by the Josephson Institute of Ethics in
Marina Del Rey, Calif.
“It certainly doesn’t bode well for the future when you realize
this is the next generation of paramedics, nuclear inspectors,
politicians and journalists,” Michael Josephson said of the survey
Josephson is president of the Josephson Institute of Ethics and
founder and president of Character Counts, an organization that
promotes moral development of young people.
“This generation, more than any other, has been raised to
believe that cheating is a legitimate coping mechanism to get by,”
And the problem isn’t just cheating, he said.
In the Josephson Institute survey, 47 percent of students
admitted they had stolen something from a store in the last 12
Also, more than one-fourth of high school students said they had
stolen from a store at least twice.
“Combine cheating with the theft rate, and you have a portrait
of a new work force that is really going to wreak havoc,” Josephson
Many school districts have implemented character education
programs, which Josephson said can make good people better and turn
around a few bad people. More than half of Oklahoma City’s
elementary schools use the Character First program, Assistant
Superintendent Guy Sconzo said.
Cheating is all about character, Sconzo said.
“It is very much about the importance of doing the right thing,
of having respect for yourself as well as all around you,” he
said of character education. “Really, it’s about behaving
privately no different than you behave publicly.”
Pressure to Perform
Talita DeNegri, a Northeast Academy English teacher, said
cheating is going to happen.
“It is inevitable because it’s the real world, and the real
world has created pressures on these students, from being
competitive to making high grades to meeting standardized tests,”
She designs her tests to reduce cheating as much as possible,
For example, it’s obvious when two students give the same essay
So, does that mean students don’t cheat in DeNegri’s classes?
One student coughed hysterically.
“I need to get a drink of water real quick,” he said, jokingly.
Stephen Jentoft, who teaches social studies at Northwest Classen
High School in Oklahoma City, said he limits cheating by
computerizing his tests.
Jentoft scrambles the questions and answers.
“I then am free from making any accusations,” he said.
President Clinton lies to the American public when it seems
A Detroit Tigers baseball player puts sandpaper under his thumb
to gain a pitching advantage.
A parent takes a sick day from work to go shopping.
What message is America sending its children?
“When somebody can be open about an event, they’re not concerned
about the ramifications,” Character Counts’ Josephson said.
“Someone is not going to say, ‘I molested my sister,’ because my
gosh, someone would shun you and look down on you.
“Today, cheating has become so commonplace that many young
people aren’t even the least bit ashamed… to admit it. That is a
very sad state of affairs.”
Josephson recommends a four-pronged approach, TEAM, which stands
for teach, enforce, advocate and model:
Teach that cheating is wrong.
Advocate what’s right.
“We’ve got to give up value neutrality,” he said. “Morality is
not a choice; it’s a mandate. We’re ashamed to say that cheating is
wrong, that drive-by shootings are wrong.”
Model proper behavior.
“If you don’t want cheating, you have to be careful,” Josephson
said. “You can’t be in the 10-item-or-less line with 14 items
and credibly tell a kid not to cheat, or you can’t lie about a
kid’s age to save a few bucks.”
More than 150 metro area teachers responded to a recent survey
by The Oklahoman.
Two-thirds of those teachers said they occasionally or
frequently catch students cheating.
However, cheaters rarely get caught, according to national data.
Ninety-five percent of students who admitted cheating avoided
getting caught, the Who’s Who survey found.
But what happens to students who do get caught?
Assuming a parent doesn’t call the school screaming, cursing and
blaming the teacher, cheaters typically receive an automatic zero
on the homework or test.
Does the punishment fit the crime?
Character Counts’ Josephson isn’t so sure.
“A zero on the test might be enough, but in most cases, it’s
not, because that’s what the kid thought he was going to get
anyway. I think cheating is serious enough that the person ought to
flunk the course if they cheat.”
Northeast teacher DeNegri said she’s a big believer in
There’s no whispering when she catches a student pulling an
answer sheet out of his underwear or reading her fingers to reveal
“In all honesty, when I catch a kid, he is humiliated, because I
trusted him, and he should be humiliated because he chose to screw
up,” she said.
But she doesn’t hold a grudge.
“If I catch a child cheating, it’s over, it’s done, and I’m
hugging him the next day.”
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Each morning, Brandon Baker rises early to do his farm
Then he drives his Ford F-150 pickup 12 miles to the small
North of town, his family tends 1,600 acres of wheat and alfalfa
and raises cattle, horses, sheep, pigs and chickens.
“I can remember getting up at 3 o’clock in the morning because a
heifer was having calving problems,” said Baker, 17, sporting a
king-size belt buckle, Wrangler jeans and cowboy boots.
“If you’re not out there at that time, you lose the heifer and
But don’t think this ambitious high school senior uses his
morning hours spent cutting alfalfa or bailing hay as an excuse not
to excel academically.
With 117 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, the Butler
School may be small.
However, the Custer County school boasts one of the toughest
grading scales in Oklahoma.
With a 3.92 grade-point average, Baker is the valedictorian of
Butler’s 10-senior Class of ’99.
His only two B’s were a 93 and a 92 – both in English classes.
At most Oklahoma schools, he would have made A’s. But it takes a
94 to earn an A in Butler.
Out of 233 public and private high schools statewide that
returned a survey from The Oklahoman, just three schools have such
a high standard – the other two are Okeene and Shattuck.
While many schools have lowered grading scales, dropping A’s
from 93 or 94 down to 90, Butler Principal Ted George said his
school has no intention of changing.
“I don’t feel like it’s asking too much,” George said. “We think
we’re trying to prepare these students for success.”
As a visitor scanned the Class B Butler Cowboy basketball
schedule on the wall, the 30-year educator relaxed in his office
chair and contemplated the grading issue.
Then, he posed this question to the out-of-towner.
“Up at GM, if those people put those cars out and they operate
at the 90th percentile, how many of those cars are going to be
defective?” he asked.
Thinking a little more, he added, “Rural Oklahoma is kind of
looked down on by the urban areas. So, I think we’re expected to do
better and get our students to perform higher.”
The Butler School is just south of where State Highway 44
dead-ends at State Highway 33. Catty-corner to the school is the EZ
Stop Grocery, a deli and gasoline station where fishing worms sell
for $ 1.99 a dozen.
“You almost have to be coming here to go through here,” said
George, in his fourth year in Butler after working 23 years in
Between Clinton and Elk City about 110 miles west of Oklahoma
City, this community of roughly 250 has a Dairy Boy restaurant, a
lumber yard, a center where senior citizens play dominos, a First
Baptist Church and two Churches of Christ. If you stop to look at
the fishing boat in George’s driveway, a tour of the town takes
about five minutes.
But apparently, the laid-back atmosphere disappears in Nancy
Cook teaches democracy, Oklahoma and world history, special
education and humanities.
Even in the harvest season’s busiest time, Cook won’t let up,
Baker said with a smidgen of irritation.
“I really had to work in that class to get an A,” he said of
Cook’s humanities class. “She made you study, and if you didn’t
study, you failed.”
Cook, who has taught for 20 years, the last seven in Butler,
“In all of my classes, you have to put forth a lot of effort,”
she said. “To be successful in life, you have to put forth lots of
“I’ve had some kids who have made A’s across the board make B’s
in my class. But that’s tough. They could have made an A.”
A few weeks ago, junior Chewy Galvan and senior Tara Ousley were
working to improve their calculus grades. Galvan had a 91 and
Ousley a 90 at the time. Both were short of an A.
Galvan, who works 32 to 40 hours a week at the Kmart in Clinton,
said making the grade is tough.
“You don’t goof off as much,” he said of balancing school and
work. “Staying up until 2 o’clock finishing up homework, then
getting up at 7 is not fun.”
Ousley, the school’s salutatorian, said she works about 28 hours
a week at the EZ Stop and plays basketball. The basketball team,
she bragged, won second place in the state for academic achievement.
If a 90 was all it took to make an A, students might slack off,
Valedictorian Baker plans to attend Oklahoma State University
and hopes to become a veterinarian.
He thinks Butler’s grading scale will benefit him.
“When I get into college, I’ll have better study habits than
some of those with a 4.0 because I had to work harder to get an A.”
because I had to work harder to get an A.
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Noble High School junior Casey Cottrell has a simple reason for
He has to.
How else would he pay for his truck, his four-wheeler, his cell
phone and his pager, not to mention gasoline and lunch?
“I work about 20 hours a week, and it makes it very difficult to
do well in school,” said Cottrell, 17. “It leaves limited time to
study and do homework.”
Add in Mu Alpha Theta, DECA, the Key Club, soccer and basketball
– and it may seem amazing that Cottrell has managed a 3.5
Thousands of Oklahoma high school students stay up late flipping
burgers, rolling pizza dough, stuffing taco shells – and many sleep
Students are so busy earning money, tooting the tuba and
swishing slam dunks that many don’t have time for schoolwork,
dozens of teachers told The Oklahoman.
“Keeping kids awake is hard,” said Judy Ackerman, who teaches
English and journalism at Edmond North High School.
Ackerman, an Edmond teacher for nearly 30 years, said the
problem gets “a little bit worse” every year.
“You say, ‘OK, maybe you’re just really a boring teacher.’ No,
these kids are exhausted… I watch these kids fight the sleep the
first two hours of the day,” she said.
“They can’t help it. They just nod off completely. That’s a
problem. They’re working too much and have too many activities.”
Talita DeNegri, an English teacher at Northeast Academy of
Health Sciences and Engineering, said many parents place demands on
young people to earn money.
“But there’s also more of a materialistic desire from our
youths,” DeNegri said. “They want the cars. They want the Tommy
Hilfiger pants. They want the Ralph Lauren shoes.
“What’s disturbing is, they are working such late hours.”
Tim Wofford, a Northeast Academy junior, spends his nights
washing dishes. He said he sleeps about four hours a night and naps
on Saturday mornings.
Brian White, an Edmond North sophomore, works about 20 hours a
week at a video store. He said he catches himself falling asleep in
Nick Seymour, a Yukon High School senior, works 25 hours a week
“My job makes me give more effort to school because I have to
stay up late in evenings to do homework if I have any,” said
Seymour, 17. “I have to work because my parents don’t pay for any
of my expenses, like my truck payment, insurance payment or gas
In the United States, 54 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds work,
according to the National Research Council. By comparison, 17
percent work in Japan, and 7 percent in France.
About 1.5 million of America’s 10.5 million restaurant workers
are 18 or younger, the National Restaurant Association said.
“Kids are getting jobs when they’re in 10th grade and sometimes
earlier,” said Christine Bond, an advanced-placement U.S. history
teacher at Northeast Academy. “They’re wanting to be involved in
athletics or activities and, on top of that, take rigorous courses.
“Something’s got to give.”
But Ron Sharp, a U.S. government teacher at Shawnee High School,
said today’s students want fun learning and consider reading the
material, studying for tests or doing special projects useless and
“Students are unprepared for tests because many, if not most,
work late hours,” said Sharp, a 25-year teacher. “And their
priority is to make payments on their automobiles – not their
academics at school.”
However, some students said jobs don’t affect their schoolwork.
“Personally, I could work 80 hours a week and not have any
problem with schoolwork,” said John Martin, a Yukon High School
senior. “Because I don’t do any.”
Edmond North senior Russell Knight said: “I just blow off
homework. I need time for my girlfriend, too, so I just don’t do
Other students were more serious.
Adam Arthur, a Yukon senior, said his 28-hour-a-week job at
Circuit City helps keep outside influences from interfering with
“I chose to buy a new, ’99 F-150. Therefore, I chose to work,”
But working students aren’t the only ones dozing.
Edmond North junior Christie Myers doesn’t have a job.
However, the 17-year-old is editor of her school newspaper and
president of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church’s youth group.
She also has a schedule full of honors and advanced-placement
Then there’s her boyfriend. And her cat.
And there was violin practice, but she had to give that up.
“When you’re in hard classes, you have a lot of homework and you
have a lot of hard tests that you try to stay up and study for,”
Myers said. “So, I know there have been days when all of us have
just zoned out and fallen asleep in our math class.”