I am a straight A student. I have gotten all A’s on my report cards since report cards were a thing. Forgive me if I brag, but I feel like I’m in a pretty good position. But many other people aren’t. The average GPA of American students is 3.1 for girls and 2.9 for guys, which isn’t absolutely horrible, but could be greatly improved. But how is it that, according to the U.S. Department of Education, the graduation rate of high school students is only around 80% depending on the state you live in. This is apparently a record high! In my home state of Kentucky, it is 86%, but in other states it is much less, for instance in Louisiana it is only 73%. How is that? Or even more staggering, only around 66% of high school students will continue on to go to college. How is this? I can’t comment too much on college, but I can tell you about high school. If I keep my grades consistent until the end of freshmen year, I will have a GPA of 4.2 or 4.3. But it isn’t always so easy.
I have had several close calls; in fact almost every quarter I have a class where I don’t have an A, and it gets fixed last second. My parents pressure me to get A’s every quarter, no matter how much I tell them that the report cards don’t matter (only the grade at the end of the year). Their reply almost always ends up being “well you can do better than that”. Unfortunately, at some point, I am not going to be a perfect all “A” child, and I’m lucky that I’m even in the position that I am in. I can see how easy it would be for a kid of a less privileged position to fall through the seams and end up with bad grades. I don’t know what counts as a bad grade for some people, but for me it’s a B+. For others, a C. For some, even a barely passing grade such as a D- would be sufficient. But in my position there has been several times when I’ve had a close call, as I mentioned before.
One of these instances was in 6th Grade. I had worked on a project that was a 100 point grade. I turned it in, and suddenly, I had an F in science. That could not fly, period. If I ended up with an F… I don’t know how my parents would react. I fixed it just before report cards went out. As it turns out the teacher had put it in the wrong pile, put the grade in as a zero because it was “missing”, and I ended up with an F. I looked through the piles and found the project, buried in a completely different class period’s projects. Something I had no control of almost got me to fail a class. All it took to fix it however was to ask the teacher about the grade, and look through the piles of papers.
That problem isn’t going to cause such a large number of people to end up with failing grades though. Instances like that are rare and usually get fixed by the student, granted that the student cares or checks their grades. Many times it happens that I have a B+ in a class. After one or both of my parents scold me and threaten to take away my computer or iPod or something, I have to find a way to fix it. This happens so often, and ultimately I’m not always the one to fix it. Most of the time when this happens, the teacher would put in a few grades from some ancient assignment last minute and it would bring my grade up. What a stroke of luck I had that my grade could be pushed up last second by a teacher rushing to put in some old grades they had likely forgotten about! I can see easily how a student could not be so lucky and end up with a grade they don’t find adequate.
All of this has a point however. I find that there is a clear problem here; we focus way too much on our grades and not enough on actually learning. I have to be honest, no offense to any Geometry teachers out there, including my own, but I don’t really care that much about Geometry. All I care about is making sure I pass that class. Is that my fault? Is that because I’m not encouraged to learn by my parents or my teachers or my peers? Our “lame duck” First Lady Michelle Obama once said:
“I was too worried about the grades when I should have been more worried about learning.”
When we don’t care to learn, some kids seem to just give up and they end up getting these bad grades, and dropping out of high school, and not going to college, etc. It’s all about grades, you have to keep those grades up! If you don’t, no colleges will accept you! You won’t achieve your dream job! You won’t grow up to be successful! All because of a letter on a piece of paper. That these letters determine our future isn’t how it should be, in my opinion. That doesn’t mean I won’t keep my grades up for the rest of high school. No, no, I’ll keep my grades up to an A as best my ability. But the problem is there seem to be quite a few reasons why grades don’t or shouldn’t really matter very much. They just simply don’t matter. Though it can depend on several factors, they aren’t going to really matter in the grander scheme of things. One of the bigger problems is they don’t reflect on real life, and once you make it into college they won’t even be a topic of discussion, and almost certainly once you reach the real world. This is a pretty well researched summary of issues with the current grading system.
There are a few issues internally in school. I have two ways that may improve students’ learning and make them less stressed about grades and more interested in learning. One of these two is the “umph” factor, as I’d like to call it. That is, most of my classes aren’t met with a very high amount of enthusiasm. I often find the opposite effect in a class like English most years. Most of my English teachers are probably at least slightly crazy, in a good way. They seem to have a genuine enthusiasm about their subject of choice. They kind of make it interesting. Could we have this in most classes? English teachers are always the most memorable, ingrained in my head for some reason. I usually remember my other teachers but not as vividly as I remember the ones in English. English is a class where grades don’t seem to matter as much. My other classes I either struggle to keep an A, as Geometry can be, or I just sort of breeze through, like with Biology. English never seems too hard but they also don’t focus on the grades as much as they seem to just enjoy telling you about it. And it isn’t as if I don’t think my other teachers are enthusiastic about their subjects… they probably are, they just don’t seem to really show it quite as much.
Despite all of my kissing up to English class (not ironic since I am writing this for an English class), there is a lesson to be learned. Parents and teachers focus too much on the grades. Oh the grades! Keep up those grades! Instead of “Oh the things you can accomplish with the world of Geometry!” I’d love to know what Geometry is even for, I don’t really use it. Maybe I will down the line. But could that extra “umph” to make Math class interesting really help? Or Social Studies, I really enjoy the subject, so the class can be interesting, but I honestly I don’t care too much about the class itself other than grades. Not that I don’t try or do indeed find that occasional topic that really interests me, it does happen a lot in both Geometry and Geography. It just doesn’t seem to be consistent. I mean this with the kindest intentions, hopefully my Geometry or AP Human Geography teacher won’t take offense to this if they do read it! I like all of my teachers, I haven’t had one that was mean or even that bad for a few years. I just wish the classes had a little more enthusiasm.
Maybe I can’t really fault the teachers with this either. Even in English I’ll lose interest as, all throughout middle school, there would be those days where the teacher would say “well, class get out your textbooks” and something along the lines of “I hate to make you do it but I have to”. They hate doing textbook work, they just wanna teach!
Another thing that sort of ties in with the “umph” factor is hands on activities. This is the second way I think classes could be improved. There is one thing that always holds true, I always love Biology class. Science class in general. My planned career is in the field of biology, so I always enjoy the subject matter. I enjoy the class as well, and I think it is because of something that other classes just don’t have: hands on experience. I always enjoy my experiments because I can see some cool stuff firsthand and learn while doing it. I suppose English has this too in a way because we sit and read out of our books to get an idea of the forms of language, techniques, themes, etc. that the writer employed. I can definitely see how this could be employed more in most of my classes.
So, I would love school if all of my teachers were (1) enthusiastic and (2) had a plethora of fun, hands-on activities. English has the enthusiasm and we do a lot of projects, however I don’t think that they are always fun and as hands-on as they could be. Sometimes they are a little stressful and pressurizing. Really, they’re probably going to be that way, apparently life is that way. However, I think it may be able to be toned down a little bit. Biology on the other hand has the hands-on activities and usually the enthusiasm too. Geometry usually doesn’t quite have either one, but sometimes we do, and when we do it does actually get me interested in geometry all of a sudden.
Next I would like to address my peers. Students can help their learning along too. The first thing I would recommend is get interested in something. Find that thing that you are just perpetually tied to, something that you really get excited to learn about. Even those of you that hate learning can find something, no doubt. For me, this is paleontology, the study of fossils, and particularly dinosaurs. I research it, read up on it, get involved in it as much as possible. I learn quite a bit of unrelated things along the way. Another thing I can recommend is read. I understand quite a bit of people aren’t going to like reading, but I can tell you it really does work. I like to read about a number of topics, and sometimes you can get a better grasp of a subject that you may not be able to get in school. I wouldn’t recommend buying huge in depth books on something you aren’t interested in, but a few books that give you general knowledge of a subject are always good. I have shelves and shelves of dinosaur books, fossil books, animal books, etc. but I have books giving overviews of other topics as well. Sometimes I’ll sit and read out of a world history book, or a general science book, or even math. You also have the power of the Internet at your disposal. When I’m bored I will Google random things and see what the answer is. Why is the sky blue? Who was Donatello (the artist, not the turtle)? Why did the Persian Gulf War happen? A propensity to be curious about things can go a long way. Curiosity is in human nature, so it’s likely that most of you can find some way to be curious about things.
Another tip I can give you is don’t over-do it. Don’t over-clock yourself. I’m not telling you to just give up grades forever and stop trying. For now, with grades being as they are, you want to push to get them as good as you possibly can. However, don’t over-do it. Often times I do whatever is needed, and then I stop. It is possible to work too hard. Don’t over-stress yourself and then cause you work to become shoddy and ultimately decrease your grade. Just do what you can to get your grades looking nice. If you just can’t get that grade you want, don’t stress out about it. You’ll be okay in the long run. Stress causes more issues. Maybe you should schedule your work so that you know when to get it done and when to be worried about not having done it yet. Don’t procrastinate and leave it for the last second. Even I need to take this advice sometimes. Don’t do work you don’t need to do to succeed. Do what you need to learn, and do what you can to keep your grades at a level you are satisfied with.
At the end of the day I find that the grades shouldn’t be number one. We should be worried about what we learn, to enjoy ourselves in school, and end up with a passing grade at the end of the day. Should the entire grade system be changed? I don’t know, but as long as it stays the way it is I’m still going to push as hard as I can to get straight A’s. But I have realized that everyone as a whole seems way more preoccupied with the grades rather than actually learning something. That is, after all, what school is for. I think that this dependency on grades is actually what is causing people to end up getting bad grades. They just don’t care about what they learn, in turn causing them not to learn, and eventually they just start losing interest, and end up with bad grades. And that just isn’t how it should be. Get good grades so you can go to college, learn something so you can do something. And as Neil deGrasse Tyson once said on Twitter:
“When students cheat on exams, it’s because our school system values grades more than the students value learning.”