grades don’t matter
For many kids growing up in
America's schools, it's easy to get the message that good grades are everything.
Straight A's, along with high SAT scores, are seen as the key to gaining entry into
elite colleges and prestigious careers. But does a 4.0 ensure success later in
The US grading system was created
more than a century ago as a measure of academic achievement but in recent
years grades have become an overwhelming source of anxiety. A 2002 University
of Michigan study revealed 80% of students based their self-worth on their grades.
The lower their grades, the lower their self-esteem. And self-esteem isn't the
only thing that suffers. Research shows that chasing after perfect grades
discourages creativity and reduces academic risk-taking over time. Some kids
even lose their desire to learn, their only motivation to study just enough to
ace the next test.
The constant quest for perfect
grades can lead to high stress and mental health problems. A recent study by
New York University's College of Nursing tracked students attending to highly
selective private high schools. 80% of students reported feeling a great deal
of stress or somewhat stressed on a daily basis. Some students feel the need to
resort to cheating to boost their GPAs. In a national survey of 24,000 students
from 70 high schools, 64% admitted to cheating on a test. With college entrance
exams like the SAT and a CT the pressure can be just as intense.
While one might think students with
the highest scores do better in college, that's not always true. A 2014 study
followed more than a hundred and twenty-three thousand students who attended
universities with test optional admissions policies. The goal was to compare
kids who submitted test scores to those who didn't. The researchers found that
when it came to grades and graduation rates, the SAT and a CT test scores
didn't correlate with how well student performed in college. Students with top
grades in high school but only mediocre test scores actually did better in
college than students with higher test scores but lower grades. That's because
high school grades demonstrate a pattern of commitment to hard work but a test
taken once during an afternoon only reflects performance on a single given day.
What about top academic achievers? Do
valedictorians go on to have disproportionately more success than their peers?
A Boston College researcher tracked more than eighty valedictorians over 14
years to find out how they fared in the real world. Overall, the best and
brightest ended up well-adjusted, successful adults with professional careers
but none that were categorised as visionaries or trailblazers. Many of the
valedictorians admitted they weren't the smartest students. Instead, they
described themselves as the hardest workers who gave the teachers what they wanted
rather than exploring the material on a deeper level and taking risks. If
grades don't correlate with long-term success and they take a toll on well being,
is there a better approach in a worldwide study of student assessment?
Finland constantly ranks at or near
the top and academic achievement far ahead of the US. In Finland, tests and
grades play a much smaller role and Finland is still credited as one of the
best systems in the world. Ninety-three percent of students graduate from
academic or vocational secondary schools. For the first six years of school in Finland
there's no measure of a student's academic abilities. The only standardized
test given is a final exam at the end of senior year in high school, yet
Finland students rank top 10 in the world for academic performance year over
A growing number of educators in the US are calling for new ways to teach
kids instead of simply memorising information. Experts say kids need to learn
to think for themselves and develop the motivation to succeed. Tests and grades
are unavoidable for most American students but they aren't everything. For many,
the key to success will be finding a lifelong passion for learning that extends
beyond good grades, test scores and graduation day.
Source: TED Ed – Created by The Atlantic