Race for Best Grades Leaves Intrinsic Learning in the Dust

by Shawn Yaftali ‘17

A classroom’s collection of ambitious students can be placed in two distinct categories: extrin- sic and intrinsic. Extrinsic learn- ers desire external rewards, like praise or good grades for their ef- forts in school. Those who are in- trinsic seek internal rewards such as thorough comprehension of the topic.

This major difference stems from students’ attitudes. If they are fascinated by the subject, or believe it will play a signi cant role in their futures, they might gladly take the time to study.

Yet, in many instances, in- trinsic students do not nd their courses bene cial. Thus, uneth- ical habits such as cheating be- come increasingly common as students look for easier ways to secure the highly coveted “A” in a class.

“It’s not their fault, I think we’ve made it that way. It’s a lot easier to reduce something to a concrete letter, than it is to really value education because we’re so hot on labeling everybody,” ex- plained English resource teacher Shelley Jackson.

With traditional grading, let- ter grades often undermine actual learning. While this evaluation system helps students advertise themselves to colleges, some teenagers have become obsessive over these powerful symbols. Re- sults have become so important, especially in comparison with fellow peers, that no thought is given to the learning itself.

“I think part of it is that col- lege has gotten so expensive, and colleges go into competition with each other. So then, it puts kids in competition with each other, too. Parents are worried about money so they’re looking for scholar- ships, which has also driven this,” said Jackson.

This growing competition has exerted a great deal of pressure on high school students, causing them to do whatever possible to expand their resumes. Many of them take Advanced Placement classes to get an edge: approx- imately four million students nationwide, which is double the number from only a decade ago.

“The main reason I’m taking AP classes this year is for my col- lege applications. I want to look better than the thousands of other

students who are applying, and I think that’s true for most people,” said senior Brandon Lee.

Although these rigorous classes allow for high schoolers to better prepare themselves for college, many individuals are tak- ing APs solely for the bragging rights included.

Additionally, certain MCPS graduation requirements, such as taking courses like Health and two years of a foreign language, are classes that not all students are interested in.

Along with an indifference to the material, teachers introduce infrequent, high-stakes assess- ments that limit the ways teenag- ers can express their comprehen- sion. Constantly emphasizing the test’s dif culty, and the accolades associated with high grades, is another way performance super- sedes learning.

“I think tests are important, but I do think there has to be a mix. Our classes are great be- cause we have projects for proj- ect-based learning which are in- cluded in grades along with the tests. Most classes just aren’t de- signed that way,” said Engineer- ing teacher Brendan Lees.