What is the value of a grade?

Daniela Wise-Rojas, Social Media Editor

“Did you see? The test was posted!” Such a phrase is all too common in the hallways of Dougherty. Students stop their conversations with eyes wide open, fumble to unlock their phone, and open School Loop in anticipation. “OMG I got a 90, hallelujah!” exclaims one, while another says, “I got a 75, I’m so screwed.” Meanwhile, one student glances at their phone, sighs deeply, and puts their phone away, reluctant to share their grade. 


At a school such as Dougherty, talking about grades is common. More often than not, you overhear in the hallways, “Bro, my GPA is a 4.1 and my parents are still mad.” Personally, I’ve been overwhelmed. Junior year is hard and it doesn’t help to hear numerous conflicting narratives coming from different people. I’ve been told that “your grades are important and junior year is EVERYTHING,” but I’ve also been told that “your grades don’t matter a whole lot, they don’t define you anyways.”  I’ve been told “don’t worry about your ACT score because it doesn’t matter that much,” but also to “study hard because test scores are important for college admissions.” 


Grades are important, and that should not be a question. Grades ultimately do play an important role in college admissions. The issue is that at Dougherty, grades overpower character. Grades determine self-worth. For some reason, a grade on a test, a grade in a class, determines how worthy you are, how “smart” you are, and how successful you will be. 


Such a metric is rather dangerous. Although a tad outdated, the University of Michigan conducted a study in 2002 regarding grades and self-esteem. The study found that 80 percent of students “based their self-worth on their academic success, leading to low-self esteem and other mental health issues.”


On top of this, there is a stigma at Dougherty around asking for help. If you have to ask for help, you “aren’t as smart.” A poll I conducted among my peers concluded that 82 percent of the students surveyed felt that “there is a stigma around asking for help at DVHS.” I want to make clear that there is nothing wrong with asking for help. 


For instance, I was tutoring in a math class recently. While walking a student through a problem, I asked the student, “why do we divide this by 2 and not -6?” Pondering over the response, the student told me, “I think I know, but I don’t want to get it wrong. I think I’m wrong. I don’t know.” This broke my heart. I told the student, “there is nothing wrong with making a mistake,” but I know how he feels. I’ve felt the same way and it’s a mindset that’s so hard to escape. 


No one knows everything, and part of the reason why students struggle at Dougherty is a large lack of emphasis on having a growth mindset. Having a growth mindset is having the ability to take failures and to say, “I am going to grow from this, I just haven’t reached my goal YET.” When people have a fixed mindset, individuals begin to have a cycle of “I’m not smart, what is the point of studying?”


Although one may argue that grades boost confidence and personal self-esteem, the education system is not created equal. People learn in many different ways. Some are visual learners, auditory, sensory, kinesthetic, you name it. There is no way one class can cater to all types of learners. For instance, one student may not study for a class or enjoy it, but could be exceptionally skilled at multiple-choice questions. Another student may love the class and love school but struggle with multiple-choice questions. At the end of the day, the first student could end with an A while the second student ends the class with a B.                                            


When I proposed the question of “do grades matter” to my peers, some of them looked confused as to why I was even asking this question. Most responded with a simple “yes they do,” but most of them specified, “to an extent.” For instance, you can’t flunk out of school and then say that it doesn’t matter at all because grades don’t define you. It’s true that grades don’t define you, but there is a certain amount of discipline and respect (for instance, when applying to college or a job) earned when you get “good grades.” But then, this begs a greater question: what are “good grades,” anyways?


A “good grade” is very subjective. For one person, an C in English might be a good grade because it’s passing and this student struggles with English, but for another person, a “good grade” might be an A in Honors Physics. All of this is based on A), the rigor of your classes, B), how much you care, C), how you study and D), what you are aiming after high school, such as college, trade school, or the military. Or at least, this is what it should be. 


At Dougherty, getting a B+ in an AP class is perceived as a “bad grade.” I want to make it clear that a B+ in an AP class is not a “bad grade.” I’ve struggled with this, as I’m aware of my personal goals and many times my mood completely changes when my grade drops from an A- to a B+ and vice versa. What really matters, at the end of the day, is how hard you worked, how much you enjoy the class or the subject, and what you take away from the class. Such a mindset is what has led more competitive colleges to having a “holistic” admissions process, where they take into account the rigor of your classes, your extracurriculars, your essays, and how you portray yourself. 


As a matter of fact, many colleges like seeing an upward trend in grades. According to Shemmassin Counseling,  it shows an improvement in personal discipline and focus. No two people are in the same situation, living the same lives, facing the same struggles. It’s much harder to show any sort of growth if your grades are perfect. If you don’t struggle and fail, if you aren’t trying, there is a high probability that you aren’t being challenged enough. 


The value of a grade is very subjective. That’s obvious, especially since each school is different in terms of academics and culture, has a different number of AP/honors classes, and calculates GPA differently. Dougherty is stuck in a different mindset where culture clashes with academics, branding grades with a personal value that doesn’t truly exist.