Lighten Up About My Grades

What else should change about school as we know it?  This is Post #3 in my series on what students would change about school, if they could.

Today’s post is from Katy George, who believes that we need to change our attitude toward grades.

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I am currently a senior in college majoring in journalism and Spanish, though I’ll be taking a fifth year to finish my studies. I have had a fairly unconventional educational life, with private schooling until I graduated high school followed by two terms of community college and then two years of university at a large public school, and I’m now studying abroad in Spain for the year. My younger sister, who is 13, goes to the same small, independent, vaguely religiousish private school I went to and is trying to decide whether to switch for high school, so I’ve been thinking a lot about the educational system in the US recently.

My high school is top-notch in my state. They grade HARD, with less than 45 students graduating with a 4.0 GPA (meaning an A average) in the school’s 150+ year history. I always thought this was a good thing, until it came time for me to apply to college. The year I graduated from high school (2008) saw the most seniors looking to head to college in the history of the United States, and competition for decent universities was the fiercest it’s ever been. While GPA isn’t everything when applying to college, it certainly means a good deal. So even though I scored a 2100/2400 on my SATs, had won national awards for my writing throughout high school, was a varsity athlete, had acted in every play but two during my high school career, edited the literary arts magazine, volunteered extensively, and had excellent recommendations from my teachers, my mediocre GPA caused me to be weeded out of the admissions pools from the start. I literally did not get into college PERIOD that year. Whereas my friends who went to public schools, who often had far fewer extracurriculars, got into the schools I was rejected from because it was easier to earn As at their schools, plus with weighted grades (A+ counting as higher than a 4.0, meaning better than perfect) they could make up for any Bs or even Cs on their transcripts.

Fast forward three years. I am a nationally recognized student journalist. I speak fluent Spanish, write for 2 award-winning magazines at my home university plus a bilingual magazine here in Spain, am a successful member of the equestrian team, and maintain a 3.7 GPA at a top-15 journalism program. I’ve held down a prestigious job at my university for a year and been offered a promotion when I get back from study abroad. And my friends from the public schools with the 4.0 high school GPAs? Many of them struggled dismally the first two years. A few have dropped out completely.

I’m not trying to say I’m any better than them. A good number of them have done very well in school – better than I have, at times. What I am trying to say is that our grade point averages were in no way predictors of our future success – they were reflections of the very different expectations at our high schools. Many secondary schools (and, to be fair, universities) reward the bare minimum of effort with the highest grades. Mine didn’t – if you wanted an A, you had to be as close to perfection as humanly possible. We put in the same effort, but were given different evaluations.

Grade inflation is everywhere in the US, and more importantly, grades are seen as the end-all, be-all of school. This completely misses the point of education – which is, of course, to LEARN. I want grades to start actually reflecting the amount of work put in, but I also want grades to be less important in the world. As I watch my sister (who, like I was at that age, is very precocious but not necessarily a good STUDENT in the traditional sense) decide between our local public school, which is famous for churning out graduates with high GPAs and very little actual knowledge, and my old private school, I worry a lot about the consequences. And at the same time, I’m thinking about graduate school – another application process that puts a ton of emphasis on grades. I’m a more competitive applicant this time, but only because I’ve obsessed so much over my GPA in college – at times to the detriment of my actual education.

So to make a long story short, the educational system needs to CALM DOWN about grades. If people put less emphasis on 4.0 GPAs, grade inflation would be much less of a problem, and students could focus on actually learning the material and taking challenging, interesting classes.

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What do you think of Katy’s perspective?  Do you agree that we need to put less emphasis on grades?  Leave a comment!

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Tomorrow’s post: MaplesAndMerriment  thinks students need help to understand WHY they’re in school.

Yesterday’s post: Aewl thinks college should be reserved for those who can pay for it.

Monday’s post: Emily thinks school is too easy.

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Are you a student?  What do you think should change about school?  Go to this post to leave your thoughts, or write me a message.

Image by Clinton Cardozo