Beyond the Grade

By Kylie Tamaki ('17)

The slow clack of steps echoes throughout the pin-drop silence as the room seems to constrict with every suppressed breath.

A stapled packet, martyred with red, is slapped on the desk, and the world seems to crumble. This is a moment all students dread: the return of a failed test. No matter where your GPA falls on the four point scale, we all have felt the disappointment of a grade falling short of our expectations.

As a college prepatory school, HBA is focused on equipping students with the knowledge and skills necessary for higher education. It is indisputable that grades are vital when it comes to college acceptance. At HBA however, grades have become more important than learning.

In our achievement-hungry culture, we focus on the final results and the end product. When we want something, we want it instantaneously and with the least amount of effort. We’re tethered to our devices because they give us immediate connection with information and people, no matter where we are (for the most part) and at any time of the day. We would rather communicate through instant messages and email, rather than over phone calls or through writing letters. It’s no different with grades. To get the good grades that they’re fixated on, students have adopted “study” habits to get them what they want in the least amount of time, caring little about the quality of their learning. On the night before a test or presentation, students follow the same ritual—copy, cram, repeat. They copy notes and formulas, try to cram as much information verbatim, then do it all over again for the next assignment. How many times have we memorized equations and facts, only to forget them immediately after a test?

The obsession for a good grade has turned students into beggars and barterers.

Another example of grades becoming more important than learning is the issue of grade curves. With every test, there is always at least one person who haggles with the teacher, asking, “Can the test be curved?” This soon becomes a debate between teacher and student that rivals the repartee seen in court. The obsession for a good grade has turned students into beggars and barterers. Before high school, grade curves were unheard of. But now with higher level classes and AP courses, grade curves are the oxygen that keeps students’ grades from suffocating.

The devaluation of learning in our school cannot be ignored. The question we have to urgently answer is how do we bring back the love of learning into our classrooms? One way is to improve student engagement in class. While lectures are a staple in any classroom, they have proven to have little impact on students. It’s difficult listening to teachers talk for over five hours every day, especially when there are more tempting options like iPads and phones within reach. Teachers should recognize that there are different styles of learning, and many teenagers find it easier to engage through kinesthetic (physical) and visual learning. Hands on assignments and group projects are helpful in bringing meaning to concepts.

Another way is to alter the standards regarding grades. Grades should measure how much students learn and retain, instead of how well they play the grading system. Grades shouldn’t be a punishment for students who don’t understand, nor should they be a reward for a students who memorize and parrot back a teacher’s lecture. To make grades a more accurate representation of student learning, effort and participation should be taken into account.

Grades should measure how much students learn and retain, instead of how well they play the grading system.

Students too need to change their attitudes toward learning. If the Eagle Eye had a dime for every time a student asked, “When are we ever going to use this?”, we would be giving out college scholarships. What many students fail to understand is that all knowledge gained is valuable. You never know what the future holds. You may not need to know how to solve logarithms as a zoologist or remember every detail about the French Revolutionary Wars as a doctor, but the more knowledge you have, the greater your understanding of the world is.

We also need to wean students off their dependence on grade curves. Before torches and pitchforks are raised, consider the current state of affairs: Students have become enslaved by curves, giving them a warped sense of reality. With grade curves, if the majority of students are producing D grade work, they can end up with B grade. If grades are a reflection of students’ understanding, grade curves only coddle students by giving them a higher grade they didn’t actually earn. If students are only passing by the help of grade curves, they did not truly learn.

Teachers should take time to re-teach misunderstood concepts and review lessons that students struggle with. Investing time and effort in remedial or review lessons communicates to students that understanding is more important that checking off a completed unit in the curriculum. Students also need to take the initiative to ask for help if they don’t understand. HBA teachers are available and willing to tutor, but you’ll have to ask.

HBA may be a college preparatory school, but administrators and teachers will agree that the school should prepare students for life beyond college. This year’s new expected schoolwide learning results, or ESLRs, focus on humility, curiosity, love, and commitment. While this reflects a desire for an attitude change towards learning, the classrooms are not yet adjusting to the new standards. Learning is not something you check off a list; it is a lifelong commitment toward developing yourself. On the up side, HBA is heading in the right direction. But we’re not going anywhere if teachers and students don’t get on board.

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