Last week, a letter allegedly written by a school principal to the school’s parents made its rounds on the internet. The letter asked parents not to place too much pressure on their children to receive top scores on standardized tests.
The letter, posted to Reddit last Tuesday (though it’s reportedly been floating around the internet for a few years), has not been verified as truly being written by a principal. It was posted without mention of the supposed school’s name, and Reddit users were skeptical of the letter due to grammar mistakes that seemed rather out of place for something written by a school principal. But, regardless of the letter’s origins, its content seemed to resonate with many individuals, collecting 13,880 upvotes (as of Tuesday afternoon) on the social news and discussion site.
While not everything in the letter is agreeable (for example, we disagree that students interested in art do not need to understand math), there is a sentiment that resonates because of the emphasis on standardized test scores and straight A’s rather than learning in today’s society.
When the focus of education becomes reaching top percentiles on standardized test scores, effective learning can become lost in the shuffle as scores become the end-all be-all of how our children faired this school year.
“Sometimes the driving force in education is the wrong one,” Kelly Robinette, Fairmont’s manager of education, said. “Whether it’s achieving scores in the top percentiles or striving for the oftentimes elusive A, they both miss the point of education, which is to help children grow and develop in content knowledge and skills that will help them be successful (and happy!) in their college, career, and personal lives.”
An education system focused on standardized test results isn’t the only challenge students face today. Academic pressure has worsened in recent years as competition for spots in top colleges and in the job market become more aggressive. Receiving high marks on exams and good grades in every course are necessary steps toward edging out the competition.
Dr. Ramya Mohan, a senior consultant psychiatrist and medical educator with the National Health Service in the U.K. wrote an article on this subject for the U.K. edition of the Huffington Post last year. She stated that exam stress can lead to poor sleep quality, loss of appetite, bad moods, worrying, lack of confidence, and anger. If these feelings continue, Mohan said, students can develop depression, eating and sleeping disorders, or anxiety.
Our competitive culture tends to lure parents into believing that their children need to be the best. The best in their class. The best on the sports field. The best ever to sit down at a piano. Instead of pushing our children to be the best, we should instead focus on encouraging them to be the best they can be and help them develop the eagerness to learn.
“If parents focus more on the learning and the effort the child is putting forth, then the child develops self-confidence and a love of learning,” Robinette shared.
Realistically, our children cannot be the best in every subject. There will always be someone smarter, someone faster, someone with more talent. Pushing our children too hard can lead them to believe they’ve failed anytime others outperform them. It can lead to crushing disappointment if they fail to get A’s on every test.
“If the parent only focuses on the grades and having their child at the top of the class, the child feels his or her efforts are unacknowledged, so the child develops anxiety and low self-esteem,” Robinette explained. “The child will avoid new learning situations, being creative, taking risks, etc., all in an effort to dodge criticism and what he or she perceives as failure.”
At Fairmont, our students are encouraged to find their passions and pursue them wholeheartedly. Not all of our students will get A’s in every subject. Some might not get any A’s at all, and that’s OK. Children’s successes in life will not be determined by good grades or standardized test results, but they will be determined by how much effort they put into all they do and aspirations to learn as much as they can.
If your child is struggling with a subject, offer encouragements, and help your child find a study method that works best for him or her. Applaud this chance for your child to better his or her study skills. Some children will be naturally talented at things, and others will have to work a bit harder. Push your children always to improve and strive to learn more about subjects they find difficult.
You can also help your children by putting more stock in their “effort grades” rather than their letter grades.
“If a child gets a B in class but an O in effort, parents can know that their child did his or her best, showed good character, and learned the content enough to be considered proficient in the material,” Robinette said.
Parents, as your children bring home test scores, or as you watch them on the sports fields or on dance recital stages, keep in mind what this letter shared. We all want our kids to succeed, score high marks on tests, and achieve good grades. Just remember that it doesn’t have to be the best grade or the highest score; what truly matters is that they’ve learned to their best and highest abilities. What matters is how they’ll use those lessons to improve and consistently better themselves.