Why Grades Don’t Matter to Me
If I ran a school, I’d give the average grade to the ones who gave me all the right answers, for being good parrots. I’d give the top grades to those who made a lot of mistakes and told me about them, and then told me what they learned from them. – R. Buckminster Fuller, inventor and former Mensa International president
If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not working on hard enough problems. And that’s a big mistake. – Frank Wilczek, Nobel laureate in physics
Many times when I state that I advocate for advanced and gifted education in the Rochester Community Schools, I get a response like “Why should we provide extra education? Your child will get A’s and ace standardized tests. What more could you want?”
I won’t deny that there is some joy in being the parent of gifted children. You know their academic struggles will be few and it is fun to see your children succeed. But having a gifted child also raises questions and creates dilemmas.
The primary question when it comes to school, and it is really a question every parent should ask, is “Is my child learning?” And it is here that grades not only aren’t a reliable indicator, but actually can be misleading.
Imagine you went back to school. No, not college. Fourth grade. You pay your $10,000 for a year of education and sit in the classroom with the other students. Did you get an A? Probably. Ace the MEAP? Most likely. Did you learn much? It was probably at least half review. It wasn’t an appropriate class for you. For students that are gifted and a year or two ahead of their classmates, these classes aren’t appropriate for them as well. They will ace the tests, but fail to learn.
What if the fourth grade class was studying a subject you had little knowledge on? For example, you might be learning economics, Mandarin Chinese, or music theory. Would you get an A? Probably. Ace any exams? Most likely. Would you have learned as much as you could have? Probably not. Your mind is more developed than a nine year old’s and capable of learning at a faster pace. It wasn’t an appropriate class for you and it wouldn’t be an appropriate class for many gifted students. Again, they will ace the class, but fail to learn all they could have.
How would you have felt during these classes? Restless? Bored? Would it have been a waste of your time and make you want to drop out? Could you have learned the material better on your own? Would you have wanted to be in an advanced or accelerated class? Would getting an A make up for not learning at the level or rate appropriate to you? Would an A be a proper reflection of how much you learned? Would you have rather been in a class with people of your academic aptitude even if you received a C?
Did you learn any study skills in this class? Did you learn to work hard and overcome obstacles? Did you learn to work with other students? Did you put in an A effort? Did you take this class to get an A or to learn as much as you could even if the material was harder?
Gifted children feel much the same as you would. They aren’t adults, but they are academically ahead of their classmates. They become bored while they “sit the bench” waiting for the rest of the class to catch up. They become restless and many zone out, chat with their classmates during instruction, or become disruptive to the class. The drop out rate among gifted students is high. They don’t learn many of the soft skills taught in schools – hard work, study habits, teamwork, and overcoming obstacles.
I am sending my children to school to learn, not to get A’s. I want them to learn what they are capable of, no matter what their IQ or academic prowess is. When a pre-test at the beginning of the year shows that some students already know the material, they should not have to sit there while it is taught again. They should receive a curriculum aimed at them through acceleration tactics such as cluster grouping, partial acceleration, full-year acceleration, and magnet classrooms. An A when they already know the material is meaningless and misleading as it implies they have learned something they haven’t.
Grades aren’t completely useless. They can be a good reflection of if a student knows the subject matter. But if they are to be used to hold a student back who has not mastered the material, they should be used to advance students ahead who already know the material. Students should be placed in classes where they will be taught at the level and pace where they learn the most, regardless of physical age. Until gifted students are being graded on material appropriate to them, grades won’t matter to me.
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The Importance of Gifted Education Series
I. Why I Am Passionate About Gifted Education
II. Why Is Gifted Education Necessary?
III. Is Gifted Education Equal Education?
IV. Is Gifted Education Expensive?
V. How Does Gifted Education Help Everyone?
VI. What Are Characteristics of a Gifted Child?
VII. Why Grades Don’t Matter to Me
VIII. The Procrustean Bed of Education
IX. The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations
X. I Want My Kids to Fail