Do grades really matter?


Erin Grier, Reporter, Photographer

School itself orbits around grades: the make-or-break stamp of approval that dominates every student’s academic career. Grades become increasingly important during  a student’s high school years, especially as they begin preparing for college and planning for the future.

Today’s teens face countless obstacles—acquiring enough sleep, maintaining a lively social media presence, and engaging in a yearly struggle with their grades. To most students, making good grades determines what their future will look like. Receiving straight A’s opposed to C’s and D’s can affect what college they attend, what job they end up with, and perhaps even how much money they make. While this focus on the future may motivate some students to make better grades, many usually disregard the content they learn in favor of a desired grade, rendering the material meaningless.  

“I think [grades] can be important, depending on the kind of learning you’re trying to gauge. But if it’s like a quiz or a test, it doesn’t always show how well the person understands the material,” junior Hope Kutsche said.

College Admissions committees examine a student’s extracurriculars, SAT and ACT scores, and high school course grades to decide whether or not to admit them. The most  popular and competitive colleges look for students who made exemplary grades in high school and boast an unweighted GPA ranging anywhere from a 3.5 to a 4.0. In 2014, research from the University of Miami showed that a student’s grade point average in high school not only indicates if a person will attend college, but whether or not they will graduate said college at all. Grade point averages may also reveal how much money a student makes down the road. Considering this aspect, the importance of grades seems tremendous, but the overwhelming stress of obtaining and maintaining  good grades can affect the mental and physical health of students.

Pressure from parents regarding low grades can damage a student’s self esteem. Researchers in Sweden followed over 26,000 students from ages 16 to 46 and found that those who performed poorly in school might exhibit suicidal behavior later in life.  

16- 20% of students experience high test anxiety, and another 18% deal with only moderate test anxiety. In addition to forgetting the material they learned while taking a test, students who suffer from test anxiety may experience headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, and rapid heartbeats. During a 2012 study, 535 Los Angeles  students kept diaries documenting how much they slept, how much they studied, and how it affected their test performance for 14 days out of their 9th, 10th, and 12th school years. The results showed that poor performance on tests and homework and trouble understanding the material in class directly correlates with lack of sleep. Postponing sleep to complete assignments only results in students receiving subpar grades on their work, thus creating a vicious cycle where students fail to do their best because they do not feel their best.

“On average, an adult (and we put [high schoolers] in the same realm as adults) should get anywhere from 8 to 7 hours [of sleep] a night. I’m going to be honest, I’ve seen a lot of students come in and say ‘I only got three hours of sleep,’ and that’s average, with the homework they have,” NC nurse Fikera Gerald said.

Parents rely heavily on number and letter grades to show them their child’s progress in school rather than communicating with them directly to find out how they feel and if they need help. The inadequate grades themselves and the pressure from parents and peers can lead to low self-esteem in students. More driven students who put so much stock in their grades may let an unfortunate grade make them feel unmotivated or less than their peers. Others might recover quickly and resolve to find the source or the problems and work towards a better grade next time.

“It also comes down to personality. There are people that are perfectionists, and when they don’t get a good grade they freak out; but there are other people that take it as a learning process,” drama teacher Candice Corcoran said.

The precedence that grades hold in students’ minds should not outweigh how well they think of themselves or affect how much they value their health. Students should remember that what they learn possesses more substance than how much a test claims they understand. Knowing that receiving an unacceptable grade will not ruin their GPA or hinder them from going to a good college may allow them to respond to their grades more effectively. While educators and parents should continue to encourage good grades, they should avoid making students feel inferior, embarrassed, or guilty when they perform poorly.  

“You can’t get better unless you fail,” Corcoran said.