The Dark Side of Academic Leniency: How Lowering Standards Widens Achievement Gaps πŸ“‰

The Unintended Consequences of Academic Leniency. Annenberg Brown University

A recent study from Brown University has shed light on the unintended consequences of academic leniency, revealing that lowering standards can actually widen achievement gaps between high and low ability students12. This blog post will delve into the details of the study and discuss its key findings.

The Study: Unintended Consequences of Academic Leniency

The study, titled "The Unintended Consequences of Academic Leniency," was conducted by A. Brooks Bowden, Viviana Rodriguez, and Zach Weingarten1. It analyzed the effects of a statewide grading policy that increased leniency, finding that it mechanically increased student GPA without improving student achievement2. This policy also led to an increase in school absences1.

Surprising Findings: Gains in GPA and Increased Absences

One of the most surprising findings of the study was that the gains in GPA were driven entirely by high ability students, while low ability students saw no improvement in their GPA1. This suggests that the policy, which was intended to help lower achieving students, actually benefited those at the top of the test score distribution1.Additionally, the study found that the increase in absences was driven entirely by low ability students, further widening the achievement gap between high and low ability students1. This has long-term implications, as it can affect ACT scores and future academic success2.

Raising Important Questions

The findings of this study raise important questions about the effectiveness of lenient grading policies in addressing achievement gaps and improving educational outcomes for all students. It's crucial to consider the potential unintended consequences of such policies before implementing them12.


In conclusion, the study "The Unintended Consequences of Academic Leniency" highlights the potential pitfalls of lenient grading policies and their impact on widening achievement gaps between high and low ability students. As educators and policymakers strive to improve educational outcomes for all students, it's essential to carefully consider the potential consequences of any policy changes. To learn more about the study, check out the full paper available at the Annenberg Institute at Brown University14.

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