More Than Just My GPA
Originally published in TEACH Magazine, January/February 2018
By Sabina Bacino
I’m Sabina Bacino, a high school junior in Marin County, California, and I’m writing this essay with the hope of improving the education system by modifying the way GPAs are calculated and valued.
The grades that make up a student’s GPA are just a tiny portion of what they achieve throughout the year. I can confidently say I have learned the least from taking tests and writing essays, but the most through the process, for example, collaborating with peers. Every day, I continue to learn about what kind of student, learner, and hard worker I am. I have made vast improvements throughout my academic career, but all of my hard work is not reflected on my transcript. I only have a three-digit number.
As dramatic as this may sound, GPAs may be harming students. According to a Penn State University study, “because ‘students are faced with a tremendous amount of pressure to get good grades,’ there is a significant amount of evidence that ‘their mental well-being is at risk,’ with the possible risk of suicide and other serious mental health issues.”
In addition to being unhealthy, grade obsession can cause students to learn the wrong way. They can become so intent on achieving a high GPA that they forget the sole purpose of education—to learn, understand, and analyze the information taught. When a student prepares for a test using flashcards for example, they may receive a good grade, but the information will quickly leave their mind because they did not actually learn the topic; instead they just memorized terms. If this student wasn’t so obsessed with getting a perfect score, they might take time to think deeply about the information and therefore truly comprehend it.
The Penn State University study also found that even though “grades do provide the desirable incentive to perform better, they also cause the undesirable effect of restricting student learning.” Grade obsession can alter a student’s creativity, as “constantly thinking about what the teacher wants or what the rubric says for a paper injects a fear of not meeting standards for a good grade.”
A lot of people believe that achieving a high GPA is the only way to get a high paying job and have a successful future. The problem is that GPA does not accurately measure intelligence. One student could have an 89.9% while another could have 90%. The difference is just 0.1%, but it is also the difference between an A and B; a 3.0 and a 4.0. According to Mercaid.mercyhurst.edu, “Admission counselors from top colleges and universities revealed that a numerical figure such as a GPA is not truly a comprehensive and relevant way to judge an applicant.” Swarthmore College, the top ranked private college in the Princeton Review’s Best Value rankings, sees GPA as “artificial” so they do not even bother to look at it. While true college applications consist of more than one’s GPA, often it is the deciding factor as to whether an admission board continues to look at the rest of the application.
I’m not saying the education system should completely expel GPAs, but there are other factors that should be considered equally important.
For example, many different types of people are intelligent in different ways. Some people are book smart, some are street smart, some are creative or athletic, or have an eye for fashion, even a passion for music. We are all different, so why are we all graded the same?
Students would also benefit more from written feedback than a letter grade. By receiving written feedback, a student can learn from his or her mistakes instead of solely feeling discouraged or rewarded without a valid reason why.
Also, the way GPA is measured should change. If a student has 80%, their GPA should be different than a student with an 89%.
My hope is, that, one day, future generations will have the opportunity to be evaluated and rewarded for all of their talents, not just a small portion of their abilities that make up a GPA.
In closing, I’m currently rocking a 4.0 so this isn’t about me. This is about all those students who promise to always try their hardest in spite of their GPA—that has to count too.
Sabina Bacino is a junior high school student in Marin County, California.