The Bleu Print

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

Ben Zivsak, Bleu Print Staff

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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.

 

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2 Comments

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

  1. Mr. Swager on January 27th, 2018 7:53 AM

    In the movie “Caddyshack”, Judge Smails asks Ty about his golf score that day. “I don’t keep score”, Ty replies. “Then how do you measure yourself against other golfers?”. “By height”.

    In any pursuit, people naturally want to know how they stack up. Even my little kids, when they finish running, want to know their time, and how it compares to last week, their brother’s best, and the record. They just got a Rubik’s cube for Christmas, and are obsessively timing themselves to see if they can get better. The clock is their “Rubik GPA”. A GPA is simply that- a comparison, a standard which we evaluate ourselves.

    A GPA is certainly not a perfect reflection of learning or knowledge. The author’s note about Finland may be the ideal, but ask yourself this question: If there were no grades, would you still study? Would you really pursue knowledge solely for the lofty ideal of truth? Humans are born with a competitive nature. Even in the animal kingdom, mates are determined by who is the fastest, most attractive, strongest, or most adaptable. The answer is not to eliminate all standards, but to create standards that reflect true learning.

    I completely agree that high GPA, attending a great College like Western, or even gobs of money do not buy happiness. Too often people put external standards on themselves, and tie their emotional state to the results. However, if standards like a GPA can prompt someone to reach the best version of themselves, then competition can certainly be a good thing. I suppose the alternative would be just to take Ty’s advice and measure our value……by height.

    Thanks, Ben, for writing about a topic that is relevant to many people and that raises points worth talking about!!

    [Reply]

  2. Anonymous on January 28th, 2018 1:39 PM

    Thank you to the author for writing about a topic that is very pertinent to students not only in his own school but across the country, while at the same time provoking us to think about a different way of thinking about educational growth. Waking from the great slumber of status quo is probably the hardest but most important thing to do if we are to create something new and better. This is what the author has invited to do. I have difficulty, however, excepting the responders discouraging assertion that competition of some sort is required to bring out the best in people. I believe people can achieve success and happiness in many ways without the incentive to out do someone else. The educational system in a place of great opportunity to not only teach learning, but to also help and support students discover passions.I believe people can be motivated to succeed because of their own desire to learn something, to grow, or to pursue a topic that is deeply meaningful to them. The case of public school teachers offers an ironic parallel to this idea. The vast majority of teachers probably went into the profession with the hopes of making a difference, or embodying personal values (clearly not the money or bonuses). Sadly, they are increasingly measured by a competitive system that stakes their professional worth an in some cases job security to student scores on test that are no way predictive of future success. If we dare to dream of something different, as the author has invited us to, I’m hoping our thoughts and imaginations can lead us to something beyond competition. Picture a world where learning is it’s own reward, where students of all ages apply themselves out of curiosity and desire to find, live and share their passions with the world. I have met such people, and they are among the richest I know. Perhaps Ty from Caddyshack, rendering the question of comparative measure obsolete by virtue of his nonsensical answer, is one of them.

    [Reply]

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