The tests have been graded.
You know, the ones we tried to pretend were a dream? We all recognize the familiar lurch in the stomach that accompanies this dreaded announcement. Usually, we knew our scores before class because we shakily checked ProgressBook until our grade updated. Even if you managed to avoid the refresh button on our favorite website, you have to deal with the unpleasant side effects of a graded test. And then, when the test is passed back, there is the inevitable, innocent look of a friend followed by the words:
“So, what did you get?”
Even as I write this in the library, two people are not-so-quietly discussing their grades on a recent exam. It’s slightly painful to hear. What’s the point of it all? The process goes as follows:
- You’re anxious about your grades due to the competitive college admissions culture in which our high school is fully immersed.
- You have a test. These things slowly determine if you get into a Good College or not.
- You take the test. You’re nervous; you kind-of knew what you were doing? But not really? But sort of? Maybe? It was too easy for you to be doing everything right, and now you’re panicking.
- You have a waiting period for your grade that spans three business days to two weeks. You usually hate your teacher if the test isn’t in ProgressBook 20 seconds after you took it.
- At home one weekend, you’re doing the usual: lying in bed, watching YouTube, thinking about what your life has become, when you casually check ProgressBook. Something changes. Your A- drops to a C. A 52% stares back at you. You knew the test was too easy to be true.
- You frantically text your friend, asking what they got. They respond in 31 minutes; what could they possibly be doing for them to take this long for a reply?
- Your phone buzzes. “94, hbu?”
- You lose the will to live.
The initial shock of the test grade can sometimes be better than the expectant retelling to a friend. In the ever-changing world of high school, the only constant in a high schooler’s life is that grades are supposedly the main focus. But now, spilling scores to classmates is expected in the cutthroat AP/IB world.
I know it’s tempting to see how you rank in your class, or maybe to humbly brag to seem smarter to your peers; we are all competing for college admissions and crave a social hierarchy that classifies people into boxes. You know them: the jocks, the popular kids, the drama nerds, and the smart ones. Being the smart one solidifies your importance in high school; you’re looked up to, you’re asked for help. You are essential to the constant cycle of school.
We have all been in the place of the kid with the not-so-great test score. As we sit miserably at our desks, minds whirling with thoughts like, “How will this affect my grade?” and “Oh God, are there retakes?” the classroom practically explodes with people announcing their fantastic results as loud as they possibly can. That just makes everyone in the not-so-great group feel even worse for not doing as well as their classmates, who also love to throw in an “I didn’t even study” for good measure. Frankly, asking intrusive questions that are none of your business causes discomfort for those who did not perform well. Don’t assume that someone who doesn’t share their score did awfully; maybe they just don’t want to contribute to the overly-publicized school performance cycle that exists all throughout America. Maybe they did fabulously but are satisfied with keeping the score to themselves. Remember: a 70 for you might be soul-crushing, but for your friend, it could be the best they’ve ever gotten.
Teachers: you need to do better. Don’t enforce this hyper-competitive environment of peer validation; the scores themselves are scary enough. How test averages compare amongst different classes, do not matter. Neither does sharing the average score, or the highest grade (or worse, announcing who got the highest grade). Teach students that you don’t need to compare yourself to each other to feel satisfied and that tests only exist to show improvement. Tell your students that sharing scores benefits no one, and to just keep it to yourself. Teach them that it’s okay to fail and that you will help them succeed on the next test.
Parents: You might be grappling with the anxiety that nothing you say can change your independent teenager, but what happens at home counts. Students already face enough stress at school as is; do not add pressure by comparing your child to their classmates. Many of us are highly motivated and are making efforts to fix our not-super-great test scores; show your child compassion and help them study for the retake instead of yelling or degrading.
Honestly, who loves sharing their test scores with their peers? As teenagers clumped into a tiny building for years at a time, we already have enough with which to compare ourselves. Don’t add meaningless numbers to the list; intelligence cannot be quantified. I was discussing the topic of test scores with a teacher who has worked in Shaker since the 90s; she told me that kids didn’t share grades as often as today. That was when college wasn’t the end-all-be-all of life, and your schooling didn’t crescendo into a brag-fest of who got into which college and who will be successful and who is going where.
By sharing our test scores and grades, we are perpetuating a cycle of stress, college shaming, and a toxic, competitive environment that schools drill into our heads. Students, please stop sharing test scores. Mind your own business, because school is less miserable when everyone just keeps their grades private.