“Ben-Official” Ideas: High Scores Don’t Always Equal Happiness

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Ben Zivsak, Bleu Print Staff

What’s the point of high school? The answer to this question may seem overwhelmingly obvious to many, but a concrete controversy exists. Why do some students stay up all night studying? Or overload themselves with AP classes? Will these students go on to endure fame or greatness? Will they help facilitate global transformation or actualize large scale change? Do the high achievers of high school eventually grow wealthy and assume happiness in life?

If you’re somebody that has sacrificed much of your life to maintain good grades, you will have the opportunity to study at a respected college, possibly get a decent job and eventually earn a comfortable amount of money.  If you don’t frequently pull “all-nighters” studying, or don’t take multiple AP classes and don’t get good grades, then you won’t have the same opportunities to live a rewarding life. You will struggle to get into colleges and have a harder time finding a stable job. This is the way the world works.  Your GPA determines the quality of life you will live. Simple. But should it?

The formula for success: goods grades in high school/good standardized test scores = acceptance into a good college = well-paying job = success.  Right? This process is embedded in the brains of students starting at a very young age. From the beginning of first grade, good grades are rewarded, praised, and celebrated by parents and teachers. As students continue their education, the first five letters of the alphabet become the exclusive measure of one’s intelligence, associated closely with reputation, and this further strengthens economic division between peers. Moreover, a study conducted by the University of Michigan revealed that more than 80% of students based their self-worth on grades. Another study also concluded that students with higher grades than fellow peers are more likely to develop mental issues. However, constant self/peer comparison occurs, and those with worse grades or a lower GPA have diminished levels of self-esteem and confidence compared to those who have higher grades. This takes a significant toll on all aspects of a student’s life. Teachers, counselors, alumni, doctors, successful business owners, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and the general population of middle-aged adults endorse the system which entails that the path to wealth and a bright future lies only in good grades and test scores. This notion has been deeply ingrained for decades in our society. But what if every aspect of this ideology is false.

What if all the hard work to get straight A’s, maintain a 4.000, and attain high standardized test scores means nothing later in life? Research done by a Boston College affiliate followed more than eighty valedictorians from various high schools over the course of 14 years to see if they had more success than their peers in the real world. Only a fraction of the best and the brightest went on to have professional careers where they earned an income that was considerably higher than the average salary. None were categorized as visionaries or trailblazers. A survey incorporated in the same study reported unhealthy amounts of stress during high school for these high achievers. There are countless other studies that have produced similar results. Good grades in high school don’t lead to more money or more success in the long run. So how can this process be so wrong? Endless infatuation with maintaining perfect grades reduces the desire to be creative- a skill that is essential in the modern workplace.  Preoccupation with grades and test scores also discourages academic risk taking in school. Over time many students may lose their ambition to learn. The current grading system leads to stress, emotional problems, is harmful to student learning, and meaningless for future careers. So why does this system still exist? And if letter grades are not an accurate indication of success or wealth in the future, what about standardized tests?

SAT and ACT tests are the focus of high school. They’re one of the biggest factors that colleges consider when reviewing applications. They determine your future…or maybe they don’t. A 2014 study compared the performance of students all over the country with above average test scores to students who were below average. It was proven that good SAT and ACT scores do not correspond with a better college performance. In fact, students who had mediocre standardized test scores got better grades in college than those who scored above average. Furthermore, the average job salaries of students with above average test scores were lower than the “below average” test score group later in life.  So why is this? In schooling prior to college, the only motivation students have is to acquire goods grades and high-test scores. Learning is not the focus. Grades and test scores are the only details that matter. This correlates to just enough studying to ace the test. Learning stops after good grades are achieved. In college, this benchmark no longer exists or is harder to clearly identify, leaving students feeling “lost”. Also, standardized tests only reflect a performance in a single afternoon or morning when college requires long term dedication and hard work. If neither standardized testing nor good grades are imperative for learning and success later in life, what other options are there?

“Relief” is the word a Chelsea High School sophomore uses to describe what she would feel in a world where grades do not exist. A world in which a 4.000 is meaningless. High school without the stressing, compressing, and obsessing. No quizzes. No unit tests. No final exams. This universe could exist. But unfortunately, concerning a public-school setting, we must look outside the United States. Students in Finland are not graded or tested for the first seven years of schooling. The first test that these students will take comes at the end of their senior year in high school. Yet the academic performance of students in Finland is one of the best in the world, and far surpasses the United States. In 2015, 93% of high school graduates attended secondary schooling in Finland. This percentage is absurd when compared to U.S education statistics. Starting at a young age, students are prompted to explore what they want to learn through constant exposure to new topics and varying educational material. Throughout years of schooling students are encouraged to constantly switch interests, aiding them in the process of discovery. This process can lead to intense passion for a school subject and later a career chosen by these students. Finland proves that a grade free world can exist and that we could possibly adopt a similar framework leading to better academic performance and student happiness. Motivation that is not for an A+ or 4.000, but to learn, understand and experience. This is the true equation for success.