My Daughter’s High School Was Inflating Her Grades. This Has to Stop!

What do school grades measure? Are they a reflection of a student’s ability to memorize facts? Do they validate discipline and hard work? Why do so many people over emphasize them? 

Over the years, I have seen parents focus so much on their child’s accomplishments. When class projects are presented at school, I am amazed how many are obviously not completed by the student. The writing is advanced and the complexity of the physical project is not on par with the current grade level. 

My daughter’s middle school starting pushing college in middle school. (Shutterstock: ABO PHOTOGRAPHY)

My children’s school work should be their own

I was surprised to see these advanced projects at the elementary school level. Yes, I gave my kids ideas and constructive criticism but never took over. It was their project, not mine. It is their accomplishment and they deserved the accolades. I didn’t get an award for their hard work. Nor do I get a parenting award for raising a child who can excel in school. 

Social media has made it easier to tell the world that your child is on the Dean’s List or achieved a perfect report card along with a picture of the evidence. I’ve also been involved in countless casual conversations where a parent tells me that their child has all A’s or gives me their current grade point average.

The interesting thing about these revelations is that most often we weren’t talking about school but somehow they throw in that piece of information. I nod my head but don’t share what my children’s grades are. I walk away shaking my head thinking, “why did they feel the need to share this information with me?”

I never felt the need to publicize my daughter’s accomplishments

One of my children was hyper focused on learning. She was “smart,” a perfectionist, and high strung, quite a combination. She excelled. I didn’t feel the need to advertise her accomplishments via social media or the annual holiday card greeting.

She earned those credentials herself but she is so much more than her accomplishments at school. She is kind, warm-hearted, compassionate, hardworking, and sarcastic. Surprisingly, before leaving for college she asked, “why do college grades matter?”  I was surprised but knew she wouldn’t settle once she got to college and she didn’t.

My middle child was different. It took her a lot longer to learn to read and math concepts were too abstract for her to grasp. She did all right in school but never received any certificates of achievement or academic awards.

My Child’s School start pushing college very early

The schools started pushing college in her sixth-grade year. There was a “wear a college jersey day” and a field trip to tour a college. The teachers and staff were telling students to think about what schools they may want to apply to. These kids were eleven years old. What happened to letting them be kids?

Her high school years were tough. She wasn’t in accelerated classes. College, college, college was all everyone spoke about. Oh, and grade point averages. My kid has a 4.0, mine has a 4.5, or mine has a 4.8.  I tried to ignore all of it. I watched her grades to ensure she was completing assignments and not falling behind but didn’t do the work for her.

My daughter’s school was inflating her grades

Towards the end of every quarter, she would have a “C” or “D” but somehow ended up with a “B” and sometimes an “A.”  This trend kept increasing. Finally, during her senior year, I spoke up during a meeting with school administrators, teachers, and advisors I said, “you are inflating her grades and it is not doing her any favors. She now thinks she is more capable than she is.”  

I was met with stares. No one said a word. She is also a great person filled with empathy, compassion, kindness, and loyalty. These are not the things she was graded on in school but are essential elements of a successful human being. 

At the same time, I had an elementary school child. She was quiet and worked hard. Always trying to please her teachers. I told her to do her best and remember to be kind and respectful to everyone. If she made mistakes that is all right, it’s how we learn. This girl is now in high school. I do not focus on her grades. I focus on her confidence, self-esteem, and work ethic. 

My hope is that we as a society can stop focusing on grades

Graduation season is upon us once again. My social media feed fills with all these posts about how great everyone’s kids are and their perfect grades, athletic achievements, the great schools they are going to attend, and so much more. My hope is that our society can focus on respectful, empathetic, kind individuals rather than on grades. We need more of these qualities. A solution is to abolish grades and brainstorm solutions like alternative assessments or project-based learning.

Organizational psychologist, Dr. Adam Grant wrote an essay in The New York Times in 2018 discussing whether a high grade point average equal successful careers. He states…

Academic grades rarely assess qualities like creativity, leadership and teamwork skills, or social, emotional, and political intelligence. Yes, straight-A students master cramming information and regurgitating it on exams. But career success is rarely about finding the right solution to a problem — it’s more about finding the right problem to solve.

Dr. Adam grant

Dr. Karen Arnold, Researcher, found that getting straight A’s requires conformity. Having an influential career demands originality. In a study of students who graduated at the top of their class, the research shows that although they usually had successful careers, they rarely reached the upper echelons.

“Valedictorians aren’t likely to be the future’s visionaries,” Dr. Arnold explained. “They typically settle into the system instead of shaking it up.”

Parents have an outsized concern with grades rather than with citizenship skills

I reflect on my children’s trajectory during this time of year as I am sure many parents do. We wonder where the years went and how we arrived at graduation day when it feels like they were just learning to walk, play, and share. A first-grade teacher commented to me that so many parents are consumed only with their child’s academic success.

She noticed they are not as concerned about their child’s citizenship skills. Citizenship, she explained, involved being a good friend, neighbor, caring for others, kindness, inclusion, and friendly attitude. She made a point to tell her students and parents that citizenship skills will carry them into their adult lives and will matter more than how well they did on a subtraction test. 

I hope we can all remember those words. Our society needs more people focused on being good citizens. We need more kindness, compassion, empathy, and wonder. We need people willing to think outside the box and develop novel solutions.

We should emphasize volunteer work and random acts of kindness

Instead of spending time touting our children’s perfect report card, why don’t we engage in conversation to help them learn to be good citizens? Help them learn the value of volunteer work, practice random acts of kindness, and other altruistic goals. Ask your children what they learned today or ask if they made mistakes. After they share, ask what they took away from the experience. 

We are all proud of our children whether they are the valedictorian, middle of the class, or just scraped by. We are all different and therefore have individual stories and trajectories. Let’s embrace all of these rather than trying to always be the one with the highest grades. There are students graduating this year who have been on a tightrope all year not knowing whether they would achieve this goal. They should be applauded because they are able to walk across the stage and receive a diploma along with all the high achievers. 

Applaud everyone!

More Great Reading:

What I Want My Teens to Know About Being “Average”

About Kelly Lang

Kelly Lang, co-author of The Miracle Child: Traumatic Brain Injury and Me is a brain injury survivor and caregiver to her daughter who sustained a traumatic brain injury in 2001. She co-leads the Brain Injury Association of America’s Advisory Council, a group of survivors advocating and supporting other survivors. Her advocacy experience includes working with the National Center on Advancing Person-Centered Practices and Systems’ Brain Injury Learning Collaborative and serving as a member of the Traumatic Brain Injury Leadership Group and the Person-Centered Advisory Group.

Kelly has been the keynote speaker at state and national brain injury conferences and conducted workshops and webinars for universities, disability organizations, hospitals, and others. Kelly is also a Communications Trainer with INOVA Health Systems and has worked on projects with the Coalition for National Trauma Research. Kelly and her husband created a website educating others about brain injury.

Kelly received her BA from American University and previously worked in the Human Resources field. Kelly and her husband have three daughters ages 27, 25, and 16.

Read more posts by Kelly

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