What'd You Get on That Test?

Olivia Baker  We are not defined by grades. Sure, of course we aren’t. We are people, not an A, not that passive B+, nor that disappointing C. But when students flock to their mailboxes to see their marked-up test, they’re only thinking about four words: what did you get? We are inherently competitive beings. In a cutthroat environment that seems to value the name of your college more than your moral values, a single quiz could put you at odds with your peers. But with the introduction of “growth mindset,” these things could change. However, it’s an idealistic notion, especially because we can’t seem to function without our expectations of one another. Let’s think optimistically. Say the “growth mindset” is implemented into our curriculum. We aren’t afraid to ask for help anymore, and questions are encouraged no matter how we qualify them. Our peers motivate and help us when necessary, and our teachers welcome us with open arms. Instead of that big, red C+ on your test, and a note next to it that says let’s talk about this, we are simply notified by an update on our progress. Maybe that well-earned smiley face. Our recent assembly speaker Eduardo Briceño makes this seem attainable. And, as someone who dislikes the competitiveness surrounding grades, it sounds great. But many don’t understand what growth mindset, or a learning mindset for that matter, really is. Stanford Psychology Professor Carol Dweck claims there are two categories of learning mindsets: the first is “fixed,” the second is “growth.” Unfortunately, the studies and data Mr. Briceño mentioned are fixed, according to Mr. Marshall. “It’s oversimplified to encourage certain behaviors,” said Marshall. “Motivation is actually quite complicated, and, from what I’ve read, psychologists don’t understand it as well as Dweck’s binary classification suggests.” The studies cited included students who took on this mindset at a young age. But we aren’t as open to change anymore. We have become so used to this cheese grater of an environment that we can’t change as easily now. What if the mindset were forced on us?. Of course, things would be different. Or imagine this. we have all digested the growth mindset, and your peer tells you they are going to ask the teacher for extra problems, you know, to show that they really do care about the material. After all, teachers do value progression, growth, and passion more than the grade. The teacher welcomes your peer with a smile, recognizing their dedication. You would feel, to say the least, less devoted. How can I also show the teacher I care about learning? How can I one-up my peer? Now, let’s compare it to what currently happens. I have your tests, says the teacher. The blood drains from your face. That test certainly wasn’t your best. Or you might rejoice because you felt confident about it. You get it back. It sucks. Either you felt great about it and did poorly, or thought you did poorly and actually did do poorly. Your forced smile masks your true feelings. And the rest of the class did well! The average was at its all-time high! A triumph for the whole class. The door closes on the room, and what did you get and how did you do fill the air. That same feeling of inadequacy arises. How can I catch up with my peers? I am probably doing so bad compared to them. The teacher probably thinks so lowly of me now. Sound familiar? The paradox of the growth mindset… Instead of competing over grades, people compete over who can be the most progressive, who can value the subject more, who can show the teacher that no, the grades don’t matter at all. It seems like a way out. A light at the end of the tunnel. And yet, by our social standards, it’s a dead end. Like it or not, competitiveness defines and drives our being. It’s an inescapable disease we have all contracted. The debate of growth versus fixed mindset is a necessary one to have at Latin. But it’s a debate that’s polarizing, and unfortunately doesn’t properly address the way students actually think and operate. But perhaps it’s the ideal of grades that is causing the problems. After all, grades are the common denominator in these mindsets. “Grades complicate learning,” said Mr. Marshall. “They discourage collaboration, risk-taking, and initiative. Students value growth differently, and their attitudes about learning are all over the place. One size never fits all.”]]>