Students judge one another based on grades

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Nicole Schroeder

Every high school student I know is obsessed with his/her grades and because of the structure of our education system, rightfully so. One bad score on a student’s report card could severely affect his/her career in taking advanced courses or attending a high-stakes college.
With grades being placed on such a tall pedestal, it’s no wonder that grades are so valued in society. Students will toil for months on end, giving up time and energy to tip the scales one letter above the last, to change a minus to a plus—to bring their grade point average up just one-hundredth of a percentage higher than before. When the semester reaches its end, there is a palpable anxiety in the air as finals make permanent the grade that students have worked so hard to achieve, etching into stone the single letter that could determine their future education or career.
With all of this on the line, it certainly makes sense for students to worry over their grades throughout high school. Yet, in my experience, there is another factor to our worries which is all too often ignored.
In every classroom, with the mention of an IPR or a test that is handed back, there is an incessant murmur from fellow students.
“What grade did you get?”
“How did you do?”
“What was your score?”
The questions are harmless enough, and I’ll admit to asking them of my own classmates from time to time to calm my anxieties about a low score or an incorrect response. But when these questions are answered, the conversation shifts from simple curiosity to judgemental criticism.
“How could you miss that one?”
“That question was easy.
“You think that’s a bad grade?”
I mention this because I have witnessed it firsthand since elementary school. Whether it is a student that consistently scores at the top of his/her class or one that struggles with each lesson that is taught, there seems to always be a classmate who criticizes the “smart kid” for getting a bad grade or is relieved their score wasn’t the lowest in the class. A few weeks ago, I even saw a couple who, when the boy talked about doing relatively well in his classes, the girl immediately responded with, “Oh, really? What’s your GPA?”
In instances such as these, the idea of grades changes from a way of assessing your understanding of a topic to a way of assessing your understanding in comparison to your peers. Students begin to compare their grade to whoever they deem the “smartest” in the class and ridicule one another for not getting the scores people expected they would receive.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t guilty of this same accusation. In truth, I often don’t realize I’ve judged someone based on their grades until I think about it after the fact. It seems to be such a part of society to compare ourselves to one another that it has become an automatic response for many of us, even those who are working actively to prevent it.
But the grades we receive in school are not meant to be a form of the Hunger Games: encouraging peers to battle against each other in a fight to the intellectual death. They are meant to be a way to gage our abilities as a student and as a learner. If we are ever to put an end to this judgement, we must gain the realization that we are constantly comparing our test scores, grades and even GPAs against one another. We must recognize that grades are meant to be a form of measuring your skills in a certain subject, rather than a form of vilification against one another to make us feel better about our own scores. We must consciously make the decision to put an end to it, working together to help each other grow as peers rather than competing against each other as academic rivals in a system where the only challenge we truly face is ourselves.
By Nicole Schroeder