A quarterly-published, topically-based newsmagazine


A quarterly-published, topically-based newsmagazine


A quarterly-published, topically-based newsmagazine


Academic Affirmation

Students, teacher evaluate impact of grades on self-worth, validation

Junior Kaitlin Yang, who is in many top academic classes, said she often equates her feelings of self-worth to her grades.

“I definitely feel like grades do have an impact on my self-worth, because I feel like I always compare my grades to people who have better ones,” she said. “Some teachers do try to lessen the competition between students by avoiding comparing different students’ scores, but other teachers who don’t care will and that instigates the tensions in the classroom among peers.”

Yang is not alone. According to Dr. Jennifer Crocker, psychologist at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, students who tie their self-worth to external sources—such as academic performance—can experience more anxiety and stress.

David James, AP Physics C teacher, said he sees that observation in his classes.

“I think a lot of kids who take AP Physics, which is what I teach, do focus a lot on grades, and I feel that a lot of time students get overly focused on grades. So maybe they feel that way; I’m not sure if their self-worth is entirely grade-driven, but I do feel (that students) feel a high importance on grades,” he said.

To lessen the competition between students, James said he often curves tests or provides other opportunities to boost students’ grades.

“What I try to do is make sure that as (students) are working hard and doing all (their) work, the grades will end up being B’s or A’s. I do that by (giving) curves, things of that sort,” James said. “So I try to make it such that it alleviates the stress of grades, but I guess the stress is only alleviated if you find a ‘B’ a good grade. Where I feel like a B in an AP course is a good grade, there might be a lot of struggle with students who only focus on A’s and feel that that’s the only way they could feel good about their experience. So what I try to do is give extra opportunities or curves to make sure that everyone is getting (at least) B’s and A’s as long as you’re doing your work.”

But James said those letter grades can be deceiving and they don’t always equate to AP test scores, for example.

“So because (physics can be offered as) an AP course and I use AP questions (for tests), the weird thing about physics is, to get a high AP grade like a 5, it turns out that the score you might get is more of a C or a D without a curve,” James said. “What I have to convey to (students) is that (students) have to ignore how those grades might be a sign without any adjustments—that raw score, we call it—and not to focus so much on that, but to look at how that plays out to the ranges of scores when we do an AP grade of a 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1. I try to use curves and show students that maybe (a student) got a 70%, but a 70% on that unit is actually really good with using AP questions, and that might actually be a 5 on the AP exam. So I try to curve it appropriately and then alleviate the students’ worries that they’re doing poorly. And maybe there’s just an issue on the way physics is tested by the College Board, but that’s not something I have control over. So it’s how can we manage their testing scheme with students’ anxiety and stress. So I always do curves to make sure that we’re adjusting to where people aren’t overly anxious or stressed.”

Yang said now that she’s a junior, her grades are even more important to her.

Senior Amruta Killampalli works on her homework during SRT. (Hibba Mahmood)

“Especially this year since I’m a junior, I strive for straight A’s. Since these grades will be sent to colleges, I’d prefer to have more A’s for (college admissions officers) to see,” Yang said.

Junior Maxwell Gootee said letter grades, and not constructive feedback, play an outsized role on a student’s sense of self-worth.

“Teachers (sometimes) literally say how well you did, and, baseline, everyone wants to see a bigger number (as their grade) and having a teacher’s input on a bad grade can damage the self-worth a lot of students feel,” Gootee said. “It also kind of stems from parents and how parents place pressure on their kids to get better grades in school. There’s such a rigid academic environment that peers around me create, so that there’s the stereotype of ‘there’s only one way to be a successful person’—which is by having good grades.”

For her part, senior Amruta Killampalli said over the years she’s let grades stop heavily contributing to how she views her sense of self-worth.

“Unfortunately, my grades (do) play a role in how I feel about my self-worth. When I get a bad grade, I do feel like I let the bad grade decide my self-worth,” Killampalli said. “But recently, I’ve discovered that grades don’t define who I am. Being bad at one thing is not that big of a deal because everyone has strengths and weaknesses and (the subject I’m bad at) doesn’t mean I’m bad at everything.”

James said the deciding factor should be making sure students take classes they’re interested in learning and let the grade take care of itself.

James said, “So if you’re interested in learning the rules of the universe or mechanical systems, physics is great. If you have very little interest in that and you’re more into life systems, (there’s) biology, or if you love chemical reactions, (there’s) chemistry, that sort of thing. Finding the course that you’re passionate about is usually the first step in doing well in a course, because you’re going to enjoy it. The nice thing about physics is, it’s basically an elective; you’re not required by the state to take physics— you’re electing to take it, so hopefully you’re interested in it. Really, when it comes down to any class that students may deem hard, (it’s) to not fall behind—so even if you just did 15 minutes, five days a week, that adds up over time, so a little bit every day is better than that huge cram session the day before the test.”

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