Beyond The Numbers: The Truth About Grades And Self-Worth


Claudia Rosales, Editor

Grades are an important part of the educational experience, but should they be a reflection of a student’s self-worth? 

The initial intentions for the usage of grades were a way for teachers to evaluate a student’s understanding of the material and their ability to apply it. These evaluations are then used to determine a student’s progress and readiness for the next level of education. However, with the significance placed on grades and modern-day competitiveness, students slowly begin to anxiously fret over their performances. This is true regardless of whether traditional or standard-based grading is used. The end result is the same.

Worrying originates from the stigma surrounding “incompetence” in a school setting; the emphasis to be the best student one can be is promoted from an early age and stays present throughout a student’s entire career. Emily Reynoso is in her junior year at Elkhart High and knows firsthand what this experience is like. From as early as 5th grade, she’s endured the mental pressure to succeed. “My teacher assigned us assignments to no end and would fail us when they were missing. That was honestly the first time I ever felt that I was worth so little.” Other pertinent factors in this predicament include the desire to please parents—or perhaps attempt to live up to the accomplishments of an older siblingReynoso explains.

With the pressure to be perfect on paper, students begin to feel as though they are a reflection of their grade, and thus begin basing their self-worth on a calculation. Putting this strong emphasis on grades prompts anxiety and stress in students, which negatively affects their performance—and well being—as a whole. It leads to cheating, amongst other unethical behaviors, and ultimately does harm to a student’s learning. 

Reynoso expands on the issue of having to undergo mental hardships: “I used to heavily base my self worth on my grades, feeling as though I had lost value as a person if I had anything below a B since I was conditioned to believe that those grades were the absolute standard that I must achieve.” Since then, she’s prioritized more meaningful things in life than the appearance of her transcript. “I don’t think grades should be the sole determining factor since it doesn’t always reflect the person’s intellect or capability when it comes to the field they want to go in.”

It’s easy to get caught up in the stress of trying to achieve perfect grades, but it’s important to remember that grades do not define a person’s worth as a human being. Students should focus on their own abilities, strengths and potential, instead of comparing themselves to others based on grades. Reynoso adds, “A student who receives a low grade on a test or assignment is not necessarily a bad student, or should be defined as someone who doesn’t put in any effort. Likewise, a student who receives a high grade is not necessarily a better student or more hardworking.” Grades are not the only indicator of a student’s knowledge or ability. Other factors, such as participation in class, leadership skills, and extracurricular activities, play a role in a student’s development and character. 

In short, grades are an important part of the educational experience, but they should not be the sole determinant of self-worth. Students should strive to learn and grow from their mistakes, and understand that their worth as a person is not determined by the grades they receive in school.