Young People Ask . . .
How Important Are Grades?
SOME feel their pulse take off like a race car. Others manage to muster up at least a semblance of calm. But whether it is with near panic or nonchalance, every student faces that day of reckoning when report cards are handed out.
Why such anxiety? Many youths feel caught in a vise of pressure from parents (“If you fail math, no TV for a month!”) and teachers (“You’re going to have to pull up your grade-point average if you want to graduate.”). No wonder, then, that when a number of elementary school students were asked, ‘What do you worry about most?’ 51 percent said, “Grades”!
Interestingly, some educators claim that grades can foster competition, create harsh pressures and even take the enjoyment out of learning. No wonder, then, that students often resent grades. One high school student even asserted: “There shouldn’t be any grade of failing. If a person takes a hard subject and makes a failing grade of 50, this still is 50 percent more than he knew to begin with.”
You may therefore wonder if grades are really worth the anxiety generated by: writing reports until your arm feels like it’s going to fall off, plowing through dull books, memorizing endless lists, cramming for final exams. ‘What’s the point of it all?’ you might ask. ‘Do grades really mean anything?’
Grades in Perspective
School—love it or hate it—fills a vital need. Says high-school teacher Barbara Mayer: “Its purpose is to give individuals as much knowledge and as many skills as possible to help them live good, rewarding, and successful lives.” And generally a secondary education is adequate to accomplish this. But how do others judge whether you have absorbed this knowledge or mastered those skills? Often it is by the grades you make in school. ‘That’s unfair!’ you may object. But it is often a hard fact of life. For example, in a recent Wall Street Journal article, employers were advised to “study the school record carefully” of a job applicant. “It is the best barometer for predicting attendance, work habits and personality characteristics,” the article continued.
So there are practical reasons for you to strive to make good grades. “Money is for a protection,” wrote Solomon. (Ecclesiastes 7:12) And if you do not master the basic skills taught in school, it may be difficult even to make money—let alone save or spend it wisely. In one recent survey, though, youths expressed that having an interesting job was more important to them than having one with high pay, status or prestige. Well, mastering the basic skills often enlarges job opportunities. An expert on employment, Dr. Bernard Anderson, recently stated: “In the case of young people, we simply must move back toward a much greater stress on basic educational skills—communication skills, computational skills and so forth.” Because new technologies often result in periodic retraining of employees, he added that “the premium will be on persons with high potential for training—persons with very good basic skills.”
Wise King Solomon, though, shows that life has a far deeper purpose than holding down a job: “The conclusion of the matter, everything having been heard, is: Fear the true God and keep his commandments. For this is the whole obligation of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13) The abilities to read well and to express oneself clearly are valuable assets for a youth who wants to ‘serve God and keep his commandments.’ The young man Timothy, for example, was told by the apostle Paul to ‘continue applying himself to public reading’ so as to be a more effective teacher in the congregation. (1 Timothy 4:13) And the apostles Peter and John, though considered “unlettered and ordinary” because of not having attended schools of higher learning, were nevertheless able to write portions of the Bible with the greatest skill!—Acts 4:13.
But do grades and test scores really help you acquire these skills? They can. Why, Jesus Christ himself often tested his disciples’ understanding of certain matters. (Luke 9:18) Teachers today, however, often find it hard to know their students on such a personal basis; classrooms are often large. So testing and grading students enables teachers to tailor their teaching to the individual needs of the students. You, as a student, naturally benefit.
The book Measurement and Evaluation in the Schools further says: “Well-constructed tests which reflect classroom instruction can increase student learning by helping to develop study habits and directing intellectual energy toward the desired educational objectives. Test results can reveal areas of strength and weakness of individual students and act as motivating devices for future study.” And, of course, your grades give your parents some idea of how you are doing in school—for better or for worse.
Nevertheless, it is important that you have a balanced view of grades, otherwise problems might develop.
‘Will We Be Tested on This?’
A high school student named Steven lamented: “I feel like I’m on an assembly line and that prefabricated bits of knowledge are being shoved at me, and I don’t have any time to digest anything.” Yes, too much concern about grades can make school seem more akin to a factory than a stimulating place of learning.
Obsession with grades can even create tensions among students. In some areas, for example, students are grouped together according to ability. Few youths, though, really want to be placed in a “slow” or “below average” class. Thus, grades can ignite fierce competition. Especially is this true when students are taught—and believe—the myth that receiving a “higher” education means happiness. The authors of one textbook on adolescence observe that “since college entrance is difficult in most places” students can be “caught up in a competitive maze that emphasizes grades and class rank rather than learning.” The situation in Japan (where great stress is placed on college) illustrates just how competitive education can become. There exams must be passed just to get into kindergarten!
Some respond to such pressures by becoming test takers instead of learners. Says Dr. William Glasser: “Children learn early in school to ask what is going to be on the test and . . . study only that material.” Veteran teacher Mary Susan Miller similarly recalls in her book Childstress!: “I have had . . . students who haggle consistently over a plus or a minus and count point values on test questions in order to challenge my grading. Achieving was the name of their game, not learning. They were the students who invariably broke into a class discussion, no matter how stimulating, to ask, ‘Do we have to know this for the test?’”
But why should you get trapped in this “competitive maze”? Warned Solomon: “And I myself have seen all the hard work and all the proficiency in work, that it means the rivalry of one toward another; this also is vanity and a striving after the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 4:4) Fierce competition, whether for material riches or academic accolades, is thus shown to be futile. God-fearing youths see the need to apply themselves in school. But they also know that happiness comes from putting spiritual interests first, trusting God to care for their material needs.—Matthew 6:33.
Granted, then, grades create pressures and problems. But as Barbara Mayer observed in The High School Survival Guide: “The problem with grades in high school, however, comes with the great importance that they have come to carry.” So while grades may be important, they are not everything! Take grades for what they are worth—at best a helpful way of gauging your academic progress. As high-school-aged Les says: “I like to get good grades. But they’re not my main thought in life.”
(Our next issue will continue this discussion on grades.)
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Are good grades worth the hours of work and study they require?
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Employers are on the lookout for youths who have mastered their basic school skills