May the curve be ever in your favor

Eric Rosenthal

          Comparing grades in Hudson is a sure way to end up in a cushy room with a comfy jacket. Having less than a 4.0 GPA is like being a leper in Medieval Europe. Hudson has even stopped reporting class rankings for all but the top 10 percent to colleges because of how difficult it is to get a decent position, even if one’s grades are excellent.

     Competition for the very top, amongst an already elite group, is extremely heated. The top handful of spots are separated by merely hundredths of a point, and students competing for valedictorian typically approach the 5.0 mark.

     Schools like Hudson frequently see this Hunger Games-esque struggle for the top. Students will take any class and employ any strategy to beat out the competition. However, isn’t that concept fundamentally misguided?

     The goal of education is not to separate students into different tiers of intelligence and pit them against each other in a competition for the top spots, the best schools and the most lucrative jobs-- there will be plenty of time for that in professional life. The notion of grades themselves is an antithesis to the objective of teaching and is a product of the corrupted focus education has adopted.

     If the purpose of schools was truly to educate, there would not be tests, GPA’s or valedictorians. These dilute the true purpose of the education system: education. Students study not to broaden their knowledge, but rather to pass the test. 

     If grades served only as a barometer for knowledge gained, they would be an excellent tool in placing students on educational tracks better suited for each individual, but in truth they are more of a cattle prod. Students are herded not toward greater learning, but rather into gaming the system and performing on tests to get the grade.

     Life is a competition, and it’s a fool’s errand to deny that. There is fierce competition for jobs and colleges can only accept so many admissions. However, it is unfair to throw gladiators into the ring without teaching them how to fight. Introducing high stakes competition for arbitrary titles like valedictorian in high school is only detrimental to intellectual growth.

     Rankings exist for many reasons: to show colleges where students fall, to provide incentive for working harder in school and to establish a meritocracy that clearly identifies the “best.” 

     Are those all valid purposes? A system where the best advance is certainly a logical one, but do rankings truly facilitate greater achievement? 

     In recent years, the administration at HHS has ceased reporting class rank to colleges for all but the top 10 percent, a reflection of a failed system. We can only report a fraction of our class rankings because they are detrimental to all but the highest echelon of students.

     Much in the same way that grades coerce students into participating in this broken system, ranking occludes the true goal of gaining knowledge. Students sign up for AP classes because they want the potential 5.0 weight, even if there is a complete lack of interest in the subject. Additionally, there are students taking ridiculous loads of Advanced Placement classes, frying their wits just to get the edge in weighting; there’s no way students actually learn with a course load of four or five APs. 

     Also because of the all-important rankings, students are frequently steered away from experimenting with classes outside their comfort zone. Pass-fail exists as a paltry response to this problem, but the reality remains that students pursuing the top 10 percent rankings will remain with what they excel at so they can maintain position. 

     All of this jockeying for position is destroying the very purpose of a public education and simultaneously robbing the title “valedictorian” of worth. Historically given to the most brilliant academic of each school, the award of valedictorian is now placed on the student who plays the game best and performs in this established tournament.

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2012-05-17 10:08:20

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