by Avery Livezey, staff writer

OCTOBER 2021 – The emphasis today’s society puts on grades has a psychological impact on students. In the last few decades, the expectation for students changed from the expectation of earning passing grades to earning excellent grades, followed by securing a college education. Receiving a C on the grading scale is supposed to be average, but students are told that an A should be their standard. Bio-Med Science Academy’s goal is to eliminate grades in the future.

Tenth-grader, Lucy Molnar, sat in the commons, stressed over her latest homework assignment. Photo by Avery Livezey, staff writer

“Society, as a whole, seems to focus on perfection,” said Mr. William Ullinger, the ninth-grade social studies teacher. “Striving for perfection can be detrimental to [students’] mental health because it’s an impossible goal.”

Ullinger said, “Anxiety will fade from school if you are able to talk about what’s wrong and effectively find how to do better.” 

Some students often think about asking for help as confrontation and would rather fail than get the help they need, and prolonging the issue just makes students more anxious. Twenty percent of high school students have mental health poor enough to impair their daily activities, according to the National Center for Mental Health Checkups.

Dr. Lisa Testa, the President of Bio-Med’s Governing Board and associate professor in Kent State University’s Teaching, Learning, and Curriculum Studies department, believes that students could benefit from ungraded feedback, allowing them to improve without as much pressure. She also believes an ungraded environment would help free students from some of their paralysis. “Students tend not to take risks because they’re afraid of failing. Learning is feeling like you can take risks, and without failures we don’t learn as much,” said Testa.

Bio-Med uses a mastery grading system, which does not follow a traditional grading scale. Mrs. Emily Lee, the school counselor for grades seven through nine, believes the mastery scale provides students with the ability to put a focus on their learning rather than worry about pass/fail grades. With mastery, students work towards mastering a skill and can often be given multiple chances to do so. Students are given expectations for assignments and based on how many of those expectations the students meet, they score either a “no evidence of mastery,” “not yet mastered,” “developing mastery,” “mastery,” or “exceeds mastery.”

Teachers at Bio-Med have encouraged students to shift their focus from grades to mastering the skill.

Mrs. Whitney Mihalik, the 11th grade social studies teacher, found it interesting that at Bio-Med, a place that works to not prioritize grades, students seem to focus more on them. She continued, saying that the anxiety from grades at Bio-Med is a “student-created issue that teachers struggle to stop.” 

Mihalik recommended students learn how to “partner up with their anxiety.” She elaborated on this by stating that “They need to manage [their anxiety]. They’ll always have it. Learning how to manage things like anxiety over grades can be the make or break for some students. The prioritization of grades shouldn’t be an issue as long as mental health is also a prioritization.”

Some students come to Bio-Med to challenge themselves further academically. Students transitioning from traditional education often try to fit their mastery grades into traditional letter grades in an attempt to understand them.

While the mastery scale continues evolving away from the traditional grading system, some students find the rapid changes to be overwhelming. Gabby Giovinazzo, a seventh grader, explained,“I was a little freaked out by the new grading scale and getting used to it over the years because the grades themselves kept changing names.” 

Giovinazzo has also struggled with handling the anxiety attached to grades. “When adults try to talk about anxiety, they talk about it in a way that’s easier said than done,” she said. “They say not to be anxious because it’s normal, but they don’t help fix the issue.”

Giovinazzo also shared that a good amount of the anxiety resulted from embarrassment, or fear of it.

“There’s even more pressure when your grades are made public if you aren’t doing well,” she said. “For example, if there is a group assignment and people won’t work with you because they know you’re struggling or during a group assignment and other people in your group won’t let you do any of the work. They won’t even let you try, and it’s embarrassing.”

She explained that teachers’ attempt to help students by giving them time to work one on one with them while others do activities. However, sometimes the conferences with teachers can make students feel anxious, due to their peers seeing them being pulled out. She believes that teachers’ attempts to help add to the embarrassment and pressure students feel.

Students need to take their anxiety and struggles, into their own hands. If students are struggling with anxiety they should reach out to their teachers or one of the school counselors, Mrs. Lee and Miss Hammond. You can reach the school counselors via their school emails: elee@bmsastem.org and shammond@bmsastem.org 

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