Friday, July 30, 2021

Students Reduced to Numbers

By: Danielle Tierney/Junior Writer

It seems like to me that good grades and standardized tests scores are starting to create a sort of tunnel vision for students. Students will sacrifice their mental health and do whatever it takes for high numbers convinced that it defines their self-worth and overall success in life. Many might ask, “What are you talking about? Grades have always mattered!”–but there has definitely been a societal change to push these ideas, more than ever, and to me it’s very dangerous.

I’ve even seen it get worse with the changes that Covid-19 causes to education. It should just be known that mental health is hard to manage in this time. There should be ways that these students who are struggling with assignments can get back on track, but instead they are left alone, stuck in the spiral of not doing work and failing tests. It’s hard to get out of this when people are telling you that you should be putting your grades and assignments before your mental health, and that you’re not going to get anywhere if you can’t fix it. This supports a belief that grades represent self-worth, which can continue the downward spiral.

I understand the idea of telling it straight to someone and not sugar coating it, but honestly how are you going to tell someone that they’ve messed up their life already when they are only a teenager?

Between January 2019 and February 2020, Stanford University’s Challenge Success program surveyed approximately 54,000 high school students in schools where the majority of graduates go on to selective colleges and universities. The results were that 76 percent of students reported that they always or often worry about the possibility of not doing well in school, 75 percent of students reported that they always or often feel stressed by their schoolwork, and 72 percent of students reported that they always or often worry about taking assessments. It’s very obvious students are facing extreme pressures to succeed in school despite grades not being something that defines them the rest of their lives.

Grades are so prioritized in the school system, and students are left with this false impression that it is going to make or break their future. They should know that one mistake or falling a little behind isn’t going to ruin their chances of achieving their aspirations. But so many people like to try and make them believe this, thinking that it will be motivational and cause for them to work even harder.  It’s not at all motivational. 

It’s also why cheating is so widespread right now. This is a link to an article that has really shocking information on just how prevalent cheating is right now, specifically in colleges and universities. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/survey-shows-cheating-and-academic-dishonesty-prevalent-in-colleges-and-universities-300402014.html.

In a time when so many assignments and tests are online, students see more benefit in the grades than in actually learning, which is a huge problem.

Alexis Parks, Blue Ridge High School junior, commented on this, saying that she has seen an increase in cheating. For her personally, she struggles with the pressure to get assignments done instead of understanding them. She says that others are probably affected by this as well, and because it’s easier to cheat with assignments online, they might just pull out their phone and look up the answers instead of attempting it. 

Competition among students right now is at an all time high. You have to fight for your spot at a college against other students across the country who desperately want it just as much as you do.

But what type of student “wins”?

It’s the ones with the perfect, or close to perfect, test scores–and the ones who can balance five extra curriculars outside of honors and AP classes.

Do you think this is an unrealistic goal for students?

Mackenzie Gleysteen writes, “To be that well-rounded student, I overexerted myself in all aspects in order to include it in my college application.”

This is from her editorial on how college admission expectations are unrealistic, and you can read it at this link http://www.collegiatetimes.com/opinion/college-admissions-process-places-unrealistic-expectations-of-well-roundedness-on-prospective-students/article_1ee2d13c-1795-11e8-a71e-27d58e10a2f1.html. For me personally, I know that no matter how much I study or prepare, I will never see a grade that I feel accurately represents my intelligence on deciding tests like the SAT and ACT because of my anxiety. I will never be able to do my best despite me knowing that I am intelligent enough. Intelligence is so much more complicated than these tests could ever measure. Honestly, what are these tests even measuring?

In an editorial on USN, author Jill Tiefenthaler states, “Standardized tests were never intended to measure the complexities of intelligence.”

Her take on the SATs is linked here, and it offers a lot more evidence as to why students should not be defined by this number https://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2009/09/04/sats-do-not-take-the-full-measure-of-a-high-school-student.

No student on the planet is truly perfect in any subject. We are told that this number is going to define us and that we have to look as best as we can on paper… but students are not paper. We all have unique ways of thinking, different battles, different things that inspire us and push us. There are students who come from areas where it is really hard to get the right education to do good on these tests, there are students who have so many other responsibilities and hardships in their life that studying just isn’t something they have time for, and there’s students whos mental health is something they are constantly struggling to overcome. Of course these students’ numbers aren’t going to look anywhere near as good.

The way education is going right now, students are really in trouble and I believe their mental health is not being considered or cared about in the way that it should be.

Granted, we have never had a time period like this when social media, online school and assignments, and the state of the world is in disarray and many are stressed. It’s hard for educators and guidance officers to really know what to do because of this, but I think the system for protecting students’ mental health needs fixing because the state of the world and and the state of education is changing.

I feel like mental health has also been a topic that has been danced around in the school system, and it is way past the time to destigmatize it and offer real education. Education on coping is important and I feel like it’s not good enough to just say “don’t do drugs.” Mental health for high schoolers is plummeting and drug use is increasing, and it has been even before the effects of Covid-19. Here are two relevant studies: https://4-h.org/media/new-survey-finds-7-in-10-teens-are-struggling-with-mental-health/ and https://www.jahonline.org/article/S1054-139X(20)30678-9/fulltext. These are serious problems that are so widespread that this problem should be screaming from the rooftops. Mental health needs to be valued in students, and that needs to show with their expectations, work load, resources available, etc. I think it’s time for new resources and even more flexibility for the sake of students.

So here is what I have to say about this to students. Don’t let yourself become a piece of paper. Don’t allow yourself to define your intelligence or your worth in test scores. All that you can do is your best, and sacrificing your mental health or wellbeing for these numbers to go up just isn’t worth it. Despite what people have led you to believe, these numbers do not dictate your future, you do, and you definitely have not messed it up yet.

There is so much pressure to not fail and to follow the same path as other students, but your life should not at all be defined by other students or your mistakes. You should define your own happiness. It is just really sad to see students who have completely lost themselves and turn into machines just to take tests and get good grades. The state of our society definitely plays a role in transforming students to be this way. It would be great if students could be relieved of all of this pressure so that they can learn in a way that doesn’t damage their mental health and self worth. I don’t know what the absolute answer is, but there needs to be new steps taken to help students and their mental health. This isn’t something that can just be ignored, it is real and is threatening students even more than it ever has before, and Covid-19 has definitely brought these problems to a more urgent circumstance.

 

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Danielle Tierney
Danielle Tierney grew up in Hallstead, Pennsylvania. She is a full-time student, with many hobbies on the side. Some of those hobbies include playing guitar, playing piano, playing ukulele, listening to music, lyrical ballet, riding bikes, and swimming. She would love to talk to you about the band The Strokes at any time of the day. Because she didn't have games on her old Windows XP desktop as a young kid, she wrote stories on Microsoft Word for fun.

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