School work and cello practices. The two used to be easy enough to balance for freshman and musician Hope Keithahn, but the transition to high school altered several aspects of her life. Keithahn came to understand this within the first week of the school year.
For Keithahn, a high school Grade Point Average (GPA) was the first time in her life that a number defined her.
Hope had dedicated much of her life prior to high school playing cello, practicing several hours every day.
That all changed when the pressure of maintaining a high GPA ingrained itself into her life.
“I have not been able to practice nearly as much as I like to,” Keithahn said. “Some nights I have two to three hours of homework, and I can’t seem to work in the same amount of practice I did before high school.”
Keithahn’s grades have taken precedence over social events to late night practice sessions. However, Keithahn is not alone in trying to balance life outside of school.
For many American colleges, numbers represent students. The GPA system determines several aspects of students’ lives. Christopher James, a media specialist at New
York University, writes, “Nearly half, 49 percent, of all students reported feeling a great deal of stress on a daily basis.”
Freshman Meredith Farmer has also changed how she spends her free time in order to maintain a strong GPA. Farmer has found grades to be a problem that each student needs to develop their own solution for.
“What worked for me was being conscious of how I spent my free time,” Farmer said. “But what worked for me probably won’t work for someone else.”
Keithahn feels the full weight of her busy schedule, and her GPA makes the situation a balancing act.
“Back in middle school it used to be mostly my parents pressuring [me] to get good grades,” Keithahn said. “But since the beginning of high school a lot of the pressure has been coming from myself trying to achieve a good GPA.”
Despite being a source of stress, a GPA may be necessary to assess student comprehension of the material they are learning.
Others take a more cynical stance toward the grading system. RBHS Extended Educational Experiences (EEE) teachers Gwen Struchtemeyer and James Meyer both view the grading system as ineffective at assessing the comprehension of students.
Struchtemeyer believes each student has their own “aha moment” in the school year, and these students may not understand the content or what it means to work towards a strong GPA until then.
“Teachers need to work with students in order to develop an appropriate approach to giving out grades,” Struchtemeyer said. “Because if we cannot thoroughly assess a student’s progress, we cannot effectively teach these same students.”
Meyer shares the same perspective and allows for grades later on in the school year to outweigh earlier grades.
“Grades should be a reflection of the student’s mastery of the material,” Meyer said. “This reflection should be towards the endpoint of the student’s instruction to best assess what they have learned cumulatively in the school year.”
Meyer explains this can be as simple as allowing students to redo assignments and tests once they have obtained a better understanding of the content. He expands upon this by saying that it can also be as complex as altering how grades are weighted based on how far the students are into the course.
“I always make my final an overview of the semester, and if my student was failing the class but passes on the final, I will let them pass [the class],” Meyer said. “I want to provide an opportunity for people who want to succeed to know that they can even if they have a rough start.”
Bernard Bull, an associate professor of education, sees the current letter grade system may only be effective for short-term learning. Bull sees the letter grading system as a carrot and stick tactic to grading, and while it can be highly effective in the short term, it lacks long-term effectiveness.
“The goal of earning an ‘A’ or avoiding an ‘F’ is often enough to help students study and prepare for that next exam,” Bull said. “Such goals are not enough to help students develop a growing and persistent interest in the subject, one that will empower them to continue learning beyond the tests, or even to use or remember what they learned.”
After graduation, their GPA and the work they put into it will determine many aspects of their lives post-graduation, such as what colleges they can attend, with the average GPA for Harvard admission being 4.04. Their GPA can affect what careers they can enter.
“All throughout high school my GPA has always been one of the most important things for me,” senior Trentynne Davis said. “I’ve applied to several colleges and I know the work I have put into my GPA will be seen and considered, and there’s a sense of accomplishment in that.”