Just today, I had at least three private talks with students who have expressed great anxiety over their grades.  This is actually not counting all the other incidents of “grades crisis” I heard that students have gone through over the past few weeks.  At what point do grades become oppressive to students?

I have seen a disturbing trend, especially at our school, where grades have become the measurement of a student’s worth, especially as compared to their peers.  They use it as a way to elevate others and put themselves down or elevate themselves and put others down.  Even worse, some students internalize this letter as what defines who they are.  Because of the academic nature of our school and the importance we place on performance, it is understandable that students put a lot of stock in the grade they earn in class.  Moreover, there is very real pressure to have something to show for when college applications roll along.  It doesn’t help that parents push just as hard to compete for the best spots out there.

As a teacher, it saddens me to see students put more emphasis on grades than on actual learning.  Certainly, grades show that students are learning … but do they really?  What is learning?  And what is the best way to assess learning?  Personally, I think the human mind is far more complex … and a letter grade is far too simplistic a way to measure one’s learning, much less one’s worth.

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