Student reporter: good grades, or actual learning?

Posted on December 15, 2018 by Sonoma Valley Sun

jacquelin torresJacquelyn Torres | Sonoma Valley High School

Let’s say that you are offered two choices: either you receive a D in a class, but you will have learned the subject well, or you receive an A in a class, but will not learn and retain any of the material. What would you choose?

Curious to see how my peers would respond to this question (borrowed from Boston College professor Peter Gray in “Psychology Today”), I asked 12 of my AVID classmates. (AVID is an elective program at Sonoma High to encourage kids who would be the first in their family to go to college.) The response did not surprise me: all but two of the students chose the second option—getting an A but not retaining anything.

SVHS has had an extreme but overlooked issue regarding grades being prioritized over everything else. At one point, schools had the purpose of encouraging students to learn a subject. Unfortunately, this has evolved to pushing students to the point where turning in homework and testing well is the focal point—regardless of what means students must take to do so. According to data recently released by the California Department of Education, while 93.4 percent of SVHS seniors graduated in 2018, only 46.1 percent were adequately prepared for college or career.

Graduating depends on passing courses and it is plausible for students to cheat their way through assignments and therefore graduate unprepared. Having students graduate at a higher percentage and with high grades results in more prestige and rankings for schools, which may explain why the administration has not addressed this issue. It is not far-fetched to believe that schools might turn to these self-serving practices, as multiple studies have exposed how some teachers cheat in order to receive benefits. For example, the authors of the book Freakonomics looked into suspicious rises in test scores and found teachers had changed students’ answers.

I was having a conversation with two peers recently and it was evident that homework had a lot of negative effects aside from cheating. One of the students stated that “[homework] is too much, a stress overload, and it doesn’t let me get enough sleep,” while the other stated that “homework sucks, gives me way too much stress.”

In 2016 a group of SVHS parents noticed this problem and in response conducted an SVHS Homework/Sleep Survey, with 143 respondents. It found that 81 percent of Sophomores, 82 percent of Juniors, and 80 percent of Seniors had more than two hours of homework each night. Freshman fared better by comparison: only 34 percent had more than two hours, still exceeding the guidelines adopted by the National Education Association (NEA) and the National Parent Teacher Association. They propose that there be a maximum of 10 minutes of homework for each grade level—e.g. 90 minutes for a ninth grader, 120 minutes for a senior. The majority of parents doing the survey commented on the sacrifices students make, especially when they work or pursue extracurriculars.

One respondent talked about their son’s routine: “By the time he gets home from sports, he eats dinner, showers then starts homework,” while another talked about her daughter staying up until midnight or one am. It may seem like this is an exaggeration, but you might be surprised to know that a survey conducted by the University of Michigan found that “by the 2002-2003 school year, students ages 6 to 17 were doing twice as much work as in 1981-1982.”

You can just imagine the increase homework has undergone since then.

Jacquelyn Torres is a senior at Sonoma Valley High School who has been actively involved in the school district, the City of Sonoma, and the County of Sonoma through multiple councils and commissions.


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