By Aliza Hammond
A number on a paper: that’s really all it is. However, it seems that we give this number the power to consume our minds and dictate our actions. In our community, we constantly feel pressure to perform well, and many have trouble accepting that struggling is the key to learning. At Byram Hills High School, students must learn to take a step back, look at the bigger picture, and appreciate the learning process, rather than obsessing over grades. I believe that our community can work together to change our mindset regarding test grades, so that it returns to its proper status of being a number, which is something we can both grow and learn from.
In our society, it is a common misconception that you must receive a high grade on every test in order to be a successful student. Mrs. Brocia, a biology teacher at BHHS, noticed this trend, because she has regularly observed students who are hard on themselves. For example, she told me that “they [students] will often view a grade such as an 86% as failing, which is totally not the case.” Many feel a relentless need to do well on every test, so students often find themselves with a mentality of studying only for a good grade, without a true desire to understand the information. While thinking about preparing for a test, most recognize that they frequently “study for hours on end with the main goal to maximize their GPA,” according to Remi Matza, a BHHS freshman. Ultimately, we attend school to become more knowledgeable and learn beneficial life skills, but the high school experience has morphed into an everlasting ambition for good grades.
As a result of this persistent pressure to do well, grades take control of students’ moods, serve as a large distraction, and give us an abundant feeling of anxiety. According to Hallie Gordon, a sophomore at BHHS, “test grades have a large impact on my life,” in that good results on a test “make me feel satisfied and relieved, but on the flip side, poor performances cause my stress level to rise.” After having the opportunity to discuss this topic with some of my classmates and teachers, I can safely say that Hallie is not alone. Many students suggested that test grades also cause them to feel preoccupied in class, as they may struggle with overwhelming anxiety.
When pondering how we can make a change at BHHS, Mrs. Brocia suggested that going over tests and allowing students to understand what they got wrong is crucial to fixing this mindset regarding grades. She believes that this way, students can reflect and make improvements in their study habits, as well as learn the information they may have missed for later exams. Also, many feel that the addition of projects and in-class assignments to curriculums may help take the pressure off test grades, knowing that both test and project grades are equally significant in the end. Lastly, a couple of courses at BHHS offer a system of Standard Based Grading, which allows students to determine which level of difficulty they would like to be assessed on. This is another method that can be beneficial for students, as it relieves stress and allows improvement of the balance between learning and grading. So, next time you can’t think straight, and have what feels like a permanent feeling of anxiety, remember that no matter the outcome, it’s just a number: something we can grow and learn from.