Monday, October 18, 2021

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

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