by Angie Gabeau, Staff Writer, April 2021
I had just come down from the high of the New Years, feeling renewed, ready to become a better me. Then, I got the worst grade I have ever received in my entire life in AP Bio. I didn’t have time to answer a 13-point question on the test, and the grade took a much larger toll on me than I expected.
In the next class, I didn’t speak, which is abnormal for me. Even looking at my teacher was difficult. I thought, he must’ve thought I was the dumbest person to attend this school. I started contemplating whether I deserved to be in that class or even whether I even deserved to be at Nobles. I had tried. I had studied. So this test must have meant I was simply dumb.
With all these thoughts swirling in my head, I decided not to check my grades for the rest of the quarter. Although most don’t have this luxury because it was my senior year, and I no longer had to worry about college plans, this was the perfect time to try this experiment.
After my experience with no grades for a quarter, I spoke with Director of Counseling Jennifer Hamilton and School Psychologist Dr. Rick Wilson about the effect of grades on students at Nobles.
“Research shows that your grades don’t make you happy,” Wilson said. Oftentimes, Nobles students use their grades as a source of validation, yet that cannot be the solution.
Hamilton also mentioned that students have a “fear-based” motivation; they don’t stop working out of fear that something bad will happen. Stress is important for us to have to a certain degree, but not if it takes a toll on our physical or emotional wellbeing. “Some students need grades to not be stressed. Some kids do not. So taking them away wouldn’t be beneficial for all students,” Wilson said.
I realize that for some, being in the know is more important than getting that bad grade. Last year, I was one of those students. In my bullet journal, I would write down every grade I got in every class, and also my average after every grade. Grades were of the utmost importance, so I put aside my emotions for the sake of my grades.
But I soon came to the conclusion the counselors agree with: “We have to change our outcome focus to a process focus,” said Hamilton. She continued, “Students should enjoy the process of learning. Instead of focusing on changing our grading system, we should change our perspective and how we value our grades.”
Reflecting on my experience with no grades, I have no doubts that it was most beneficial for my mental health. To my surprise, I was not tempted to even look at them. I didn’t change how hard I was working, but I was nervous that not looking at my grades would come off as apathy. In the end, I realized I am at Nobles to learn, no matter what my grades are. I maintained my grade average or even started to improve in most of my classes because I no longer experienced test anxiety. Walking into a test, I used to be nervous about the outcome, but now, knowing I would never see the outcome, I didn’t worry.
I have been exposed to this grade blind system before, which pushed me to experiment in the third quarter. In the first semester, my English teacher never gave us grades on our papers. We could ask for our grades directly, but he wouldn’t give them because he realized that students would only see the grade and ignore the comments. If I could choose my perfect system, I would be given comments and corrections on paper, while my grade remained with my teacher to place a higher value on learning rather than grades.
In my time that was not focused on grades, I also realized that there are so many qualities that matter more than the letters and numbers you earn in a class. I reflected on how I judged my classmates, finding myself praising their hard work instead of fearing the silent competition we always seemed to find ourselves in. I began to long for similar spaces where I could focus on admiring rather than fearing my classmates. “I think assembly is one of the great spaces that allow for other qualities to be praised in the Nobles community,” Hamilton said. We should continue to find those spaces that congratulate or give attention to, characteristics you wouldn’t see in the classroom.
As a community, we all need to rethink our mindset around grades. While I am not saying grades do not matter (because to some extent, they do), too many of us use grades to determine self-worth when we have so much to offer already. Participation, hard work, determination, engagement, compassion, and so many more qualities will serve you better than grades in the future. Each student will go through their own struggle with their grades and will need to find a healthy system that works for them. Remember to take time to nurture and celebrate your other qualities that will not be reflected on quizzes or tests. No one but you sees your grades, and your character is what people will always remember and value in the long run.