Tuesday, September 22, 2020
US flag

The best students get a few Bs and Cs

Walt Whitman High School is an excellent school with many “overachieving” students, we all know, but its students “need to take ourselves off of a pedestal so we can conduct ourselves like the normal high school students we truly are,” writes Camerynn Hawke in The Black & White, the student newspaper at the school in Bethesda, Maryland:

Our reputation makes us feel like we need to get perfect grades or else we’re not as strong academically as our peers. Often, when students don’t get the A that they wanted (or feel they deserve), they beg, or even pressure, teachers to raise their grade. But logically, not every student is brilliant, and Bs are in fact not a bad grade.

She couldn’t be more right, recent research suggests. Also in fact, when it comes to college, the “best” students are usually the ones who get a few Bs and Cs.

“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,” writes Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton, in an op-ed for the New York Times.

Voxitatis is carrying this story because it was well written but also because I think kids at one school are pretty much like kids at any other school. Some schools, like Whitman, have a wealthier tax base, and those expectations—from two-parent households where both parents have a college education—are strong motivators for school officials. That tends to bring better teachers who also emphasize academic and extracurricular success at the school. The opposite picture is true at schools on the other end of the spectrum: expectations from the community fail to motivate school officials to create a great learning environment. The kids are the same, but the adults around them are very different. There’s just no getting around it.

But Voxitatis also noticed, a few years ago, a trend at Whitman in state testing data that suggested a distorted test-taking environment on the algebra and English language arts tests from PARCC. Ms Hawke’s story has confirmed our hunch, reported here:

We’re not even ranked in U.S. News & World Report due to a test that students didn’t take seriously because they were told it wasn’t important. In a 2018 state report card, Whitman underperformed compared to past years …

So Voxitatis tips our hat to Whitman: Thanks for confirming our suspicions about those anomalous test scores, and whatever your intelligence quotient may be, take a few challenging classes in which you might only earn a B or C grade: Those are the classes where you really learn something anyway. Take it from this non-valedictorian.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

Recent posts

Fewer kindergartners, more college drop-outs

The nation has experienced an increase in college drop-outs, esp. among low-income families, and an explainable decrease in kindergarten enrollment.

Tim Kaine talks to Fairfax Co. seniors

In Virginia, protesters intimidated citizens at an early voting center in Fairfax Co. Sen. Tim Kaine talks about voting to students.

Obituary: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is certain to bring a political battle between the president, the Senate, and Democrats.

Students help in wake of Gulf Coast storms

Hurricane victims in the South got some much needed help from students at one Louisiana school. Laura and Sally have been very destructive.

Scientific American endorses a candidate

It's rare that a science journal would endorse a presidential candidate, but it has happened, due mainly to Pres. Trump's rejection of science.

Student news roundup, Maryland, Sept. 16

The pandemic reveals much more about us than our unpreparedness for virtual learning; Md. students look at healthcare and choices about schooling.

Smoke from Calif. paints the East Coast sun

The sunrise this morning in Baltimore and Chicago was cooled by smoke from the Calif. wildfires, which created a thick haze aloft.

Student news roundup, Illinois, Sept. 14

Special ed advocate in Evanston dies; Remembering 9/11; Business, fine arts, and cultural life during the pandemic.

No, the president can’t run for a 3rd term

The 22nd Amendment limits the number of times a president can be elected to two. But maybe Constitutions mean little to the current administration.

Worst Calif. wildfire season in decades

Wildfires in what could be one of Calif.'s worst autumns ever have destroyed structures, including schools, killed people, and mass evacuations.

Children will wait to impress others

Does it pay off to wait for a bigger reward, or should you just take a smaller reward quicker? The "marshmallow test" has some insights.