Understanding grade anxiety among MD students


Sophie Rukin, Staff Writer

“Grades are really important, because you need good grades to get into a good college, and then you need good grades in college so that you can get a good job and make a living,” Luca Brown (6) said. Two weeks ago, Middle Division (MD) first-semester report cards came out, causing stress and worry for some students.

“In my advisory, [the students] really want to know when report cards are going to come out and then when you tell them, they go, ‘oh no,’” MD Dean of Faculty Eva Abbamonte said. Abbamonte said this stress is caused by the fact that on some level, students use grades to measure how they feel about themselves. 

The real problem stems from students’ tendency to care more about the grade than the actual learning, Abbamonte said. “As an educator, I wish my students could focus more on what they’ve learned, and be proud of that, and be less conscious of what they think the grade means and how the grade can be used to compare themselves to someone else.”

“To me a grade is just a shorthand way of transmitting some information about learning,” Abbamonte said. Grades were first created as a way of comparing one student to another when in actuality it is just an oversimplification, she said. “I’d much rather have a conversation with a student and talk about their essay, but that’s not as easy a way to convey information.”

One reason so many MD students stress about their grades is because of their parents, Abbamonte said. “Parents today feel like they shouldn’t be so grade conscious because we know that’s not good parenting, but at the same time parents are worried about things like getting into college,” she said. These parents’ mindsets can rub off on the children, Abbamonte said.

“Even if a parent is not saying you need to get As, many students want to impress their parents and they want to impress themselves,” Sixth Grade Dean Michelle Amilicia said. Students set high expectations for themselves and would prefer to stress out than be confident, she said. “If you act like you’ll never fall, and then you do, that is more embarrassing than if you say ‘I’m probably gonna fall.”

While Brown feels as if some of the pressure to perform well comes from herself, she feels like a lot of that pressure is from her parents. “I want to get good grades so they won’t be mad,” she said.

Maya Chachra (6) feels similarly to Brown. “My grades are really important because my parents care about them,” she said. She also feels as if her parents are her primary motivation to get good grades, she said.

However, Amilicia feels that a lot of the stress surrounding grades comes just from being at the school, she said. “Everyone has the goal of being successful and thinking about colleges and that is always going to be a motivating factor for many.”

While Julia Lourenco (8) was not worried about her own grades before report cards came out, she understands why others would be. “It’s that variable of uncertainty surrounding grades that make them so stressful,” she said. A student does not fully know how much their participation or homework matters until the report cards come out, she said.

Chachra notices general anxiety surrounding both report cards and grades in general, because many people want to talk about their grades. “It’s not good to talk about your grades, but sometimes people get really stressed out and they want to know how they compare on average to other people,” she said. It is better for students to keep their grades to themselves since sharing grades can create an awkward environment, Chachra said.

As a sixth-grader in the first semester of the year, Brown wants to make a good impression, which partly contributes to the all-around stress, she said. 

The MD has worked to minimize grade-related stress as a division, Abbamonte said. For example, the math department has revised the seventh-grade curriculum and the history department has begun to allow revisions and retakes, she said. However, she does not think these changes have actually done too much to reduce stress, which is something kids will experience whether or not changes are made, she said.

Some classes, such as eighth grade Honors Math, run on a pass-fail system. Sachin Buluswar (8) appreciates this system because it allows him to focus on learning math rather than just his grades. Focusing more on content will be good preparation for high school math, he said.

As an eighth-grader, Buluswar now cares more about his grades than he did when he was in sixth grade, he said. “As I’m getting older they are just more important because they give me an idea of how I’m going to do in the future,” he said.

Lourenco also cares more about her grades now that she is an eighth-grader. “I’ve always cared about grades and now, especially going into high school, it’s going to be a lot more pressure because it’s for colleges,” she said. 

The pass or fail system allows students to gain a better understanding of the curriculum and not just strive for a good grade, eighth grade Honors Math teacher Ofelia Marquez said. “I think it [the pass or fail system] pushes more of a sense of learning and a sense of what success looks like.”

While grades are important to Iris Maurel (6), she does not believe they are as important to her as they are to other students, she said. For Maurel, a healthy relationship with grades is one where a student can get a bad grade, understand it, and then use it to improve, she said. “An unhealthy relationship is when you stay up for hours and hours to get 100s on everything, but if you don’t get A-pluses you get really sad,” she said. When people display their unhealthy relationship with grades it creates a tense environment, she said.

For Abbamonte, a healthy relationship with grades is one where an individual views their grades as one means of communication about what they have learned, she said. “[A healthy relationship is] when they’re [grades are] put within a broader context of who you are as a student, let alone as a human being, because being a student is just one part of your identity,” she said. “I’d much rather somebody be an ‘A plus’ human being, and a ‘B’ history student than an ‘A plus’ history student, and a ‘B’ human being.”

Kaitlyn Fan (7) hopes that students in the MD can change their overall mindset. “They [students] should realize one bad grade is not the end of the world.”

As students deal with grades and report cards, Abbamonte hopes they ask themselves why the grades matter to them as a student, or what about the grades make them proud. “The purpose of middle school is to learn who you are as a learner and then develop the skills to be the best learner you can be,” she said. “In middle school, [grades] really don’t matter. They matter in what they communicate, but they don’t matter in and of themselves.”