What's in a Grade?

As a kid, I remember getting good grades on most of my report cards.

Elementary school was fairly easy. Although I can’t recall the exact names of our reading and math groups, I have a fuzzy memory of them revolving around birds - Blue Birds, Red Robins and the like.  None of the students paid too much attention to what the other groups were doing; we were too engaged in our own work.  After all, that's what our individual grades were based upon.

Middle school was slightly more challenging. Leveled work was a thing of the past. The whole class received the same instruction, the same work, and were all graded the same way. Adding things like Spanish and trying out an advanced math class in 7th grade stretched me outside of my comfort zone. But, I did it, nailing “B’s” in the classes I considered hard while maintaining “A’s” in the classes that I found relatively easy. 

In high school, I went all out and jumped on the college-bound track. Yes, we had tracks. The classes you took depended on whether you planned to attend a 4-year university or college or planned on taking the technical/career route.  As I sat in Chemistry, Algebra II, and AP US History, I sometimes kicked myself for making that choice. But, true to form, I dug deep, listened intently in class while taking copious amounts of notes then studied and marked my notes each night. I even outlined textbook chapters in my notebook, determined to learn the material and do well in the classes.  

Despite my hard work, I earned my first-ever average grades. Much to my dismay, one report card was marred with one below average grade. I thought my parents would be furious, but they seemed OK with the grades - maybe because they witnessed my determination and hard work on a daily basis.  

In my home and in society at large, grades were also viewed differently than they are now. And, our grading scale was a tad tougher:

  • A - 94-100 vs. 90-100
  • B - 85-93 vs. 80-89
  • C - 75-84 vs. 70-79
  • D - 65-74 vs. 60-69
  • F - 0-64 vs. 0-59

Another big difference was the meaning of those grades:

  • A = exceptional
  • B = above average
  • C = average
  • D = below average
  • F = failure  

Somehow along the way, a “C”  has become the new “F.”  It seems that being average is no longer acceptable. “A’s” have become such the norm that teachers are inundated with phone calls, emails, and requests for conferences when students bring home “C’s.”  And, while I understand the concern that too many "average" grades will pull the student’s Grade Point Average (GPA) down, I will argue that there are some cases in which the student has worked hard to earn a “C” because the subject matter is extremely difficult. How is it a bad thing to be average in an academically challenging course?  

At the root of the matter:  the fear of not getting into college looms in the minds of parents and students starting as early as middle school. By high school, this impending threat turns into full-out anxiety.  Like the beloved “A,” college attendance has also become the norm. It’s actually a non-negotiable in many families.  It’s a fiercely competitive world, and understandably, parents want their kids to have the edge over the opposition.


Finding Balance

The goal for success in high school and beyond is to strike a delicate balance by taking the most challenging courses you can handle, making sure to cash in on the easy "A’s” and dedicate extra time and effort to the difficult classes, all while not giving up  hope if you end up with the occasional “C.”  

Think averages here. For every “C” earned, you’ll need an “A” to balance it out to a “B.” And, you will need to earn as many “A’s”  as you can, with “B’s” being a close second. This will keep your GPA above that coveted (and required for most colleges) 3.0. 

Knowing what your college of choice requires as a minimum GPA early in your high school career is key. That way as your grades come out each semester, you can make sure you’re on track. 

If you’re struggling to reach that minimum GPA, consider reaching out for help.  Private educational consulting is a good place to start. This extra support will help you realize, or sometimes even adjust, your postsecondary goals.

Whatever the outcome, remember that not everyone is exceptional in every subject. While there is no excuse for not earning the highest grade in subjects that come easy, there is a case for being proud of even the occasional less-than-perfect grades if you truly gave it your best effort. 

Annmarie FerryComment