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  • Writer's pictureEMILIE KILFOIL '17

Opinion: My Grades are Not My Identity

Though grades are here to stay, students have the power to decide how to respond to them.

The past few months have marked the beginning of a focused discussion on grades and the attitudes surrounding them by SUA’s faculty, administration, and students. Such dialogue has taken place in the Professional Learning Communities, which are monthly meetings of the faculty led by Ms. Meyer. Small groups of around 8-10 faculty meet to discuss topics relevant to our student body. One recent subject has been summative vs. formative assessments--tests and projects. Summative assessments are a summation of a student’s knowledge such as end-of-chapter tests, whereas formative assessments are ongoing, in-process evaluations. Other topics include alternative assessments, adolescent neural development, methods for developing creative thinkers, overall pedagogy, and grades.

“I would like for us to give fewer grades,” assistant principal Ms. Meyer says, who cites student stress as the primary drawback of grades. “Students here check [grades] far too often, and we have evidence of that. Teachers see that students are checking PowerSchool 3-4 times a day, sometimes.”

It is easy to find students to back up that statement. Austin Danko ‘17 says that she checks PowerSchool at least 4 times per day.

Hayley Graham ‘17 notes that she now checks 2-4 times per week, down from 5 times a day in past years. “As a freshman, I would check excessively and I allowed myself to be so stressed out about it. As I’ve gotten older, I have begun to see value in just enjoying the class.” She says checking her grades is a habit when she opens her computer. “Only sometimes am I actually curious about a certain grade on a test or a certain class.”

Lillie Listermann ‘17 checks PowerSchool 3-5 times per week. “In middle school, when I only received paper grade reports at the end of the year, I definitely was a lot less worried. I was still able to monitor my grade shifts based on returned tests and other assignments,” she says. Ms. Meyer furthers this idea: “When I was in high school, we got grades four times a year. You certainly had a sense of how you were doing throughout the quarters. [The stress resulting from grades] has a lot to do with technology and easy access.”

Though grades are here to stay, students have the power to decide how to respond to them.

Frequent access to these numbers can prompt obsession over them. Ashley Davis ‘17 comments, “I check [PowerSchool] even when nothing new has been put in. It’s a bad habit but I get paranoid about them.” The problem with this obsession is that it can hinder actual learning. Ms. Meyer believes that “a lot of students don’t take time to look at and understand their work; instead, they look immediately at the number or letter grade.” This ultimately inhibits intellectual and academic progress, as it can lead to discouragement. Janie Michel ‘17 substantiates this idea. “Getting a bad grade on something that I have worked really hard on is frustrating, and makes me really sad and more stressed.”

“At SUA, most girls are driven by the motivation to go to college,” Ms. Meyer says. “Consequently they are worried about whether or not they have the right GPA for admission. [The administration has] had numerous discussions on this, but colleges want to see grades, and we cannot hinder our girls by changing the system here. Teachers on the whole, and certainly the administration, would be fine with fewer grades and an increased focus on understanding.”

Though grades are here to stay, students have the power to decide how to respond to them.

While grades are a good way to monitor progress on simple concepts, an obsession with how others are judging one’s work is not only overwhelming but unproductive. “I am not just the number of my ACT or my GPA; I’m a person,” says Lillie.

Kate Bachman ‘17 says: “It is essential to remember that we as students are in control of the culture at our school. We can either continue to foster an attitude of anxiety and pressure around grades, or we can consciously make changes in our attitudes, and seek knowledge rather than a letter.” She brings up Neil deGrasse Tyson in his 2015 commencement speech at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst: “Your grades, whatever is your GPA, rapidly becomes irrelevant in your life. I cannot begin to impress upon you how irrelevant it becomes.”

Though grades are here to stay, students have the power to decide how to respond to them.

In light of the pressure that many students put on themselves concerning their grades, some have taken part of a movement to stop checking their grades entirely. Kate says that since she stopped checking PowerSchool she has “begun to place less emphasis on perfectionism which has allowed [her] to be more explorative in [her] learning and take more risks.” She continues: “It has placed less debilitating pressure on me as I’m completing assignments, and has helped me to dissociate the value of learning from the fear of getting a bad grade.” In an effort to energize the movement and garner student support, Kate and I have designed and distributed stickers. They feature empowering messages like “my grades are not my identity. #quitpowerschool” and “no more page views for powerschool. #itendswiththisgeneration.”

While our GPAs will probably not stick with us beyond college, the work ethic we develop and knowledge we attain certainly will. So, let this serve as a challenge: ask your teacher how you can become a better writer, include terms on a Quizlet that won’t be on the test, do some extra research on topics that interest you, and limit the checking of PowerSchool.

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