As a former teacher at secondary school and university, I know how much pressure is created in learning environments by the presence of grades. Although they can unfortunately not be banned from school or university because they are too relevant in our society, it helps to know the ‘truth’, so that students can judge their performance more accurately.
Good Grades = Good Performance?
Since the 1970s a considerable amount of studies have investigated if grades are an accurate tool to measure performance in educational settings. The result? F-
During these ‘experiments’ interesting findings were made. Overall one can say that grades are neither valid nor reliable nor objective. Parents and students alike must be aware that grades will never be fair or serve as an accurate measure of a student’s performance.
A few examples:
If you are a mediocre student, your grades in an academically weak class will be better than in an academically strong class even though your actual performance will be the same.
If you are taking an oral exam, your grade will be influenced by the performance of the students who took the exam before you. If they performed worse than you, your actual grade will be better than if they performed better than you. Again, even though your actual performance will be the same.
If your sibling has a better grade in English but does not take the exact same test(s) than you, it is impossible to compare your performances and conclude who is better at English.
To err is Human
These effects are unavoidable because teachers are human beings and as such influenced by a variety of factors when judging someone else’s performance and test design is often flawed. But instead of being frustrated and outraged, there is a better way how to cope with this reality: Parents and students need to accept that scientifically speaking grades are NOT an accurate predictor of how ‘well’ a student performs and they should rather focus on what is more important than grades.
What is More Important Than Grades?
Mindset = the effort you invest to improve; the willingness to work hard and to persevere and to always give your best.
This is much more important than any grade. The proof? Studies have shown that the grades you receive in your final exams before leaving to higher education are not an accurate predictor of how successful you will be at university. There was no correlation between good grades at secondary school and good grades at university. The same was true for the connection between the grades of your university diploma and the probability that you will be successful in your professional career. Again, there was no correlation between both factors.
Of course, this does not mean that all students with low grades at school will be great at university or that all good students at university will have mediocre careers. But it also does not mean that a student with low grades at school could not become an outstanding student at university or that a student with low grades at university will not reach greatness in their professional life. In fact, what it means is that high or low grades do not predict how successful a student will be later in their lives.
The real world offers countless examples to support these findings: Henry Ford, Sir Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Ray Croc, Soichiro Honda and so many others. All of them have either dropped out of secondary school or university and based on our current understanding of success, one cannot deny that they have achieved greatness nevertheless.
Of course, this does not mean that one should not go to school anymore or consider it a waste of time, no, a solid school and university education is always a plus and for many jobs in the world necessary. But parents and students must never forget that success in one’s life as an adult is not necessarily connected to good grades at school. Therefore, I would suggest that it is wiser to focus on one’s mindset as defined above.
Why the grades of my students never mattered to me?
As a teacher I was never concerned with the grades of my students because I knew that they were an inaccurate measure of how well my students would do later in their school career and the years to come.
What I always stressed in my classes was the importance of always giving your best. I encouraged students who tried very hard to persevere. And even though it might not have shown in their academic results right away, in the end it always did.
And I managed to make 'gifted' students who were not working very hard and still had outstanding grades understand how important it is to push themselves if they wanted to reach their full potential.
Why? It does not matter how ‘talented’ or ‘intelligent’ a student is. Although I cannot deny that talent helps, without the right work ethic one will always reach their limit sooner than later. Again, the real world provides us with countless examples of athletes, musicians, artists, students, etc. who showed real promise but could never achieve their true potential. A lack of effort or as Will Smith called it a lack of “beatin’ on your craft” could serve as one explanation and in many cases probably is.
Everyone is Destined for Greatness
The reality about the validity, reliability and objectivity of grades should encourage all these students who have mediocre or low grades to focus on their mindset, and all those students who are doing very well academically to focus on the very same. The truth is that working hard, never giving up and always giving your best will get you much further in life than the best grades ever will.