Each semester ends with the arrival of a fateful white envelope concealing a grade report in the mail. Some celebrate its contents while others grimace as they tear open the seal. Although senior Ansley Barnes knows scores don’t define her as a person, she still feels their weight.
“I like pushing myself to do my best,” Barnes said, “and I just feel like if I’m not getting A’s I’m not doing my best, which I know is not the case at all.”
Barnes has a 4.0 Grade Point Average (GPA) and said her incentive to maintain it partly stems from parents, but most of it comes from her desire to work hard. She said being named valedictorian would be an added bonus. Besides internal motivators, external factors such as post-secondary education drive students such as sophomore Peter Popescu, who also has a 4.0 GPA.
When studying scholarships and admittance applications, GPA is one of the top components admissions officers consider, according to the college applications preparatory system ScholarPrep, although community service and participation in extracurriculars also garner consideration. While he is undecided on which college to attend, Popescu said he strives to perform well academically to keep his post-secondary opportunities abundant. He said attending schools such as Stanford University requires an excellent academic record to be considered for acceptance.
The classes I like are the classes where I’m actually learning something, and those aren’t necessarily the classes I have the best grade in.”
With an unweighted grading system at RBHS, Popescu said maintaining strong scores is harder when taking higher-level courses as opposed to on-level classes. Some of Popescu’s classes include Advanced Placement (AP) Physics and AP World. Weighted grades give students enrolled in rigorous courses a numerical advantage when figuring GPA, according to The Glossary of Education Reform, an online organization providing education reform information.
Popescu said grades seem to represent work ethic rather than one’s ability to perform well in a subject. He said regardless of how much one understands a concept, hard work will eventually lead to mastery and visible results through grades. Similarly, Barnes said homework scores more often measure timeliness and one’s understanding of specific questions in the moment. Homework policies at RBHS are decided at the Professional Learning Team level. Honors Physics and Honors Chemistry teacher Stephanie Harman said homework helps students practice to eventually master certain concepts, which is why she does not collect it for a grade. Instead, she weights exam and test performances to reflect the knowledge and skills students gained. Harman’s views on grades, however, have not always been this way. As a high school student, Harman didn’t worry about grades as she easily aced tests without studying. In college she learned how to study but continued her straight-A streak. It wasn’t until her master’s program, she received her first B. While the score stung, Harman was teaching and her opinions on grades were changing.
“In the beginning of my career, I really thought that a student’s behavior should correlate to their grade. I held the belief that if there were points taken off for being late or unfinished, that would change the bad behavior I was seeing,” Harman said. “The longer I have taught, though, I really have started embracing the idea that a grade should reflect what the student knows and is able to do.”
Standards-Referenced Grading (SRG) embodies the same philosophy Harmon described, according to an article from Wichita Public Schools. This system only demonstrates a student’s knowledge of material and their ability to use it as opposed to traditional grading, which averages assignments and incorporates additional factors such as behavior into the final grade. While Columbia Public Schools currently operates under a traditional grading system, SRG is scheduled to appear in report cards by the 2020-21 academic year starting with district elementary schools followed by middle schools and high schools according to the Columbia Daily Tribune.
Although she must still enter scores, Harman incorporates her grades’ ideology into her classroom environment. She said grades put an incredible amount of stress on students because of the time and energy they waste “worrying about, calculating and trying to fix” grades. Senior Reece Furkin knows of the unhealthy relationships students develop with scores. Furkin, who lost her 4.0 to a B+ in physical education (PE) her sophomore year said she felt a small sense of relief as a junior compared to her friends who were still fighting for straight As. Her PE grade dropped as a result of classes she missed for surgery and was unable to make up.
Furkin’s injury, which was an uncontrollable factor, left her with the knowledge she’d given her best effort and there was no more she could do. She realized the grade didn’t define her. Furkin said many of her friends, however, still worry constantly about their grades. She noticed many have tabs for HomeAccess permanently open on their laptops, which she believes distracts them during class.
Both Barnes and Popescu said while they feel some pressure to earn straight As, teachers frequently offer opportunities to make up or revise assignments. Many, as Furkin pointed out, also accept late work. Allowing students to submit overdo or revised work provides an opportunity for reflection and further learning, according to Education World, a resource offering material and content for educators.
“A number is never going to change who you are as a person.”
“The classes I like are the classes where I’m actually learning something,” Furkin said, “and those aren’t necessarily the classes I have the best grade in.”
Although Barnes has a strong academic track record, she said she tells students in the advisory class she mentors they are worth more than their grades. She said scores serve to motivate individuals but are often blown out of perspective. She would advise all to take a step back and view the bigger picture.
“I would say to do your best, but know a score doesn’t define you. A number is never going to change who you are as a person,” Barnes said. “At the end of the day, when you’re out of school, the grade you got in a math class isn’t going to have that big of an impact on your life.”
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