“It’s all about the letter.”
Today, while I was working on a project in Spanish, a girl with a 96 in the class was begging our teacher to let her retake a quiz so that her grade would increase to a 96.5, therefore landing her an A+ as opposed to an A in that course. The teacher rolled her eyes and blamed the girl for being grade-obsessed, to which the girl replied: “It’s The GPA Race señora, if I’m not going to get the A+, someone else will.”
As it turns out, there are nearly 10 juniors with GPAs above 4.8, and only one will get to become valedictorian. One boy even has a chart where he tracks how his GPA fluctuates each time grades are released on iPass and how close he is to that coveted number one class rank.
Students today who are looking to get into competitive colleges have to be grade-obsessed, or they risk losing their chance at an Ivy League school. Of course, GPA is not the only component that determines whether or not you will be accepted into a college, however, despite the assurances of most adults, it really does matter. My school’s GPA scale is so inflated that there are students who are upset because they only have a 4.0. A single hundredth of a point can separate the valedictorian and salutatorian, and class rankings are so competitive that friends feel the need to constantly keep tabs on each other’s grades. It’s a sad day when you can no longer feel happy for a friend’s scholastic success because you fear they might steal your chance at getting into your dream school.
This situation fosters consistent feelings of stress and panic which can cause us to make really bad decisions. Cheating is the most obvious problem, but the mental strain of such high, seemingly unattainable expectations can also really mess with our health. Sleep deprivation, paranoia, and overall unhappiness are just the beginning of the problems stemming from this competitive atmosphere at such a young age. The world is a scary, competitive place, and yes, we do need to be prepared for that, but should we not enjoy our youth? Should we not prioritize learning how to love learning? High schoolers hate school, yet we make no plans to change our educational system. School may be a necessary evil in our eyes, but that doesn’t mean we cannot work to make the process of education more enjoyable.
Colleges are doing the right thing- putting more weight on extra curriculars as opposed to accepting students solely on test scores- but it’s hard to find the time to join 3 clubs, run for student council, and play 3 varsity sports when you need to spend hours doing homework every night in addition to any after school activities. GPA may not be as important as it used to be, but it still matters enough to keep students worried about those decimals decreasing.
As a community, we need to find some way to devalue the GPA race; it just isn’t healthy. I’ve dealt with grades based on “effort,” and that just leaves our transcripts overly vulnerable to teacher prejudice, so how do we accurately grade people’s performance in a class without creating such a competitive atmosphere? How do we encourage students to aim for an understanding of a concept and not an A on an exam? How do we prevent students from dropping challenging courses that they are interested in because they fear their GPA may suffer? I don’t have concrete answers to these questions, but perhaps if we all unite together to find answers, we have a hope of changing our educational system for the better.
Somebody else’s opinion who has actually done research: (If you’re interested)