Grades vs. Learning

By Amelia Lipcsei 

In modern day society, the emphasis on expending the least amount of effort for a favorable outcome has become ingrained in the education system – for better or for worse. With its abnormal priority on pupils achieving a ‘perfect’ GPA, school evokes the idea that executing the bare minimum to earn an A grade holds more importance than fully understanding the subject matter. Brad Kuntz, the winner of the Outstanding Young Educator honor from ASCD, describes his experience as a teacher, saying that he “used to hear this often from students: ‘I didn’t do very well on the test. Is there any extra credit I can do to raise my grade?’ Or: ‘I’m so close to a B in class, how can I earn some more points?’” Instead of focusing on what concepts they missed and what they could do to better understand them, his students became hyper-focused on the letter category that they received; a phenomenon that has swept throughout the bulk of the student body at millions of schools.  

However, the system’s insistence for pupils to receive a high GPA isn’t without cause. Colleges and universities focus abnormally on the difference in applicants’ grades; a 0.1 disparity in GPA can mean the distinction between acceptance and rejection in many top-tier schools. Although taking academically challenging classes showcases a student’s desire to learn, the grades that they accumulate do not always translate into the amount of knowledge that they derived. Yes, many pupils that earn A’s genuinely want to understand the material, but to the large majority of students that prioritize getting an A on a project or exam, learning holds significantly less relevance. Grades simply do not accurately reflect on knowledge. A student who spent hours studying to genuinely understand a concept could earn the same grade as a student that crammed for 30 minutes the night before the test. Out of these students, the probability of the first retaining their information stays much higher than the probability of the latter. However, they both still succeeded academically… right? 

This measure of academic success remains where schools need to improve. The focus on grades above learning causes the majority of pupils to put in the least amount of effort for the best possible grade. Without regard to the knowledge scholars lose, school teaches them that in life, hard work does not correlate with success, a mindset that will set them up for immense failure later in life.