Grading Grades

2014 October 23
by Dr. Steve Sarche

What if there was a parent report card? Would the classes look something like this?

Patience 101: The Nightly Homework Fight.
Empathy: Really? That Really Matters To You? Get Over It!
Listening and Communication: Hold On Son, Let Me Finish This Email.
School Support: Huh?
Stress Management: Whine Or Wine?
Turning Down The Thermostat: How To Be A “Cool” Parent.

Despite being bright, hard-working, loving and caring, we parents would not make straight A’s. If that is all we cared about any way, I would say that we are focusing on the wrong outcome. Do we really need to worry so much about what our grade is as a parent or is there a better way to approach the challenge of raising a child?

We are a society built on grades. There is a strong emphasis on getting an “A” in school. We should, however, question things we learn at times, so let’s question what good grades truly have to do with learning and how much they affect our future.

There is very little research that examines the link between grades and future success as an adult. There is no evidence that people with a grade point average (GPA) above, say, 3.5 are more successful than those with a GPA below 3.5. We can therefore only speculate how important grades truly are.

The obvious conclusion is YES! Of course good grades matter! In our culture, I certainly agree that good grades are important.

Our education system is so focused on good grades that a student must achieve a high grade point average to be considered for a university education. Additionally, good grades are necessary for certain jobs. Medical schools don’t even look at applications with grade point averages under a certain amount.

There should be an emphasis on doing well in school; parents should expect good effort in school. It is much easier to function well in our society when you have general knowledge, can do math, and are good at reading and writing.
In many instances, things fall in place academically; home support is good, school support is good, expectations are met, the child cares, work is done, and the production is there.

Grades become a huge problem when those things are not in place. Often a power struggle ensues. These kids are told over and over how important good grades are. Here’s a secret: they already know that. The repetition is incredibly stressful annoying to them.  They certainly don’t need to be told how smart they are and how much potential they have when they are achieving good grades. This tends to piss them off.  Teens process first with their amygdala (emotional brain) rather than their frontal cortex (thinking brain). We must therefore be patient with them.

Also, in the age of social media, can you imagine how stressful earning high marks must be for students? Not only do parents have digital access to their scores, but they can get updated constantly and therefore have the ability to constantly nag about them. Also, kids can much more easily compare themselves to others, and tend to judge negatively against themselves.

I am seeing kids get so stressed about grades that they, and in some cases, their parents, lose sight of what is more important in life; health and happiness. Additionally, I have seen kids that can learn anything in ten seconds. Due to other problems they are experiencing, however, ten seconds on the school clock may as well be 10 hours. The results are poor quality of work, avoidance of work and ultimately, bad grades.

For kids who are struggling academically, the emphasis tends to remain locked on getting good grades at all costs. Battles at school and home over those grades escalate and the stress builds. As the stress builds, the academics worsen. This results in threats, punishments or bribes for good grades. The angry merry-go-round of letters gains momentum. The dizzying path spins to more stress leading to, of course, worsening performance.

For children stuck in this cycle, we should shift the focus off of phrases like “you are lazy, not reaching your potential, don’t care about your future, and you need good grades”.

Forcing teens will likely result in rebellion instead of results. Work with them on understanding what school and grades mean to them; the context in which they view their struggles. This helps to figure out what is getting in the way of their academic success and starts the process of solving the problem(s). We also can help them learn what school can really teach them.

Besides academics, kids in school can grow and mature emotionally and socially. They have the opportunity to build confidence from handling difficult situations and problems. They can learn to accept who they are as a student and person.  They can learn how to learn, and how to apply that to managing life. If a kid is nurtured in these ways, the good grades will likely follow.

A school day also provides an amazing amount of opportunity to learn how to organize, be on time, manage stress, problem solve, be part of a group, prioritize, and learn how to do things you don’t want to do but still be successful. (If you’ve been to my office, you’ve seen my poster about this).

Perhaps this is a concept we need to teach ourselves about raising our kids. We don’t always need to get an “A” on what we do. There is no way to do it perfectly any way. We can learn from the difficult and baffling situations that will arise.

Nobody has ever asked me my GPA. What they want to know is that I do a good job, that I am updated on the latest research in psychiatry, I show up for work every day, am on time, and that I persist.

Persistence, I believe, may actually be a better predictor for future success than grades. Additionally, I suspect that confidence, social success and high emotional IQ are more important than grades. A pressured, stressed and frustrated student will be delayed and may not acquire these skills and the transition to adulthood will be much more difficult.

All that being said, I sure hope that my 10th grade English teacher does not see this. She was notorious for not giving A’s. It terrifies me to think of the red marks I would likely see all over this page.

….Actually, now that I think about it, go ahead and read this Ms. Redpen. Give me your token “C”. You know what I give your grade? An “F”.

One Response leave one →
  1. October 23, 2014

    perfectly stated…..Thank you for such a refreshing perspective!!! Keep up the good work.

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