Why grades really matter for students’ mental health
Studies show a significant drop in student performance in both math and science as the grades they receive increase.
“It’s like comparing oranges to apples,” said acting dean of real estate at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Bill Stanley.
According to George Washington University’s Center for Brain Science and Biotechnology, students with high grades show an 8.8 percent greater decline in mental processing ability. They also have an estimated 70 percent higher rate of depressive symptoms.
These findings, which have been steadily accumulating since 1993, raise questions about whether grades could actually be weakening kids’ academic performance. Dr. Stanley says it’s not entirely unreasonable for schools to value quantity over quality, but at a time when more and more kids are falling behind, we need to teach students how to learn in the first place.
“We still think of kids as arriving in a classroom and learning as that’s all they need to do,” said Dr. Stanley. “We think of an 8th grader saying, ‘I don’t like this class,’ it’s like, ‘Great,’ because the teacher has put them in a position where they should be ready to perform. “
Dr. Stanley, a former elementary school teacher, takes a practical approach to motivating his students.
“We had to create very specific rules as far as classroom behavior and what were not tolerated and to do that within a broader context of focus on how to teach,” he said.
Schools can have a direct effect on students’ mental health by encouraging greater equity. What’s more, Dr. Stanley says cutting grades can also be counterproductive.
“We’re promoting that very well with expectations that there are consequences for not doing well,” said Dr. Stanley. “When you’re in a grade school, now, what you’re saying is, ‘No, I’m not struggling with this, I’m failing,’ well, that’s an unconscious mistake to make.”
When grades do need to be given, Stanley says they should take into account a student’s abilities. A third grade English/language arts student might be better off with a B, instead of a B+ because he’s more likely to draw out the entire lesson.
Dr. Stanley says by demanding higher quality, and taking the time to teach kids how to learn, they’ll never experience the confusion that comes with not knowing what to do when their grades drop.
“‘I’m failing,’” said Dr. Stanley. “You’re not failing, you’re just not teaching kids what they need to know.”