Several administrators at a recent conference asked my opinion on year-end student awards and assemblies. At their schools, they typically rewarded students who had straight A’s or who had GPA’s above a certain cut-off point. Some gave these students awards at schoolwide assemblies; others listed student names and GPA levels in local newspapers or graduation programs. I told them that I am not a fan of such practices because they tend to emphasize grades – and particularly grade point averages – over other important measures and milestones for student success. What we reward is a reflection of what we value as a school. It’s not that we shouldn’t recognize and honor hard work and achievement, but an A grade is not always an accurate measure of these things. Can we find ways to honor the student who showed the most growth over time in a particular content area? Maybe this is a student who struggled at first, but persisted and worked diligently to understand the material? What about the student who took a risk and showed great creativity? How can we show that we honor kindness, honesty, service to others, excellent collaboration and communication skills – as much as we value academic mastery? When we reward A’s and high GPA’s in very public ways, we send a narrow message about success. When we honor students at community events, let’s use this opportunity to celebrate achievements that go beyond getting the grades. Let’s reward a wide variety of achievements and success stories that reflect the true values of our schools and communities.
Denise Pope, Ph.D., is a Co-Founder of Challenge Success and a Senior Lecturer at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education, where she specializes in student engagement, curriculum studies, qualitative research methods, and service learning. She is the author of, “Doing School”: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students, and co-author of Overloaded and Underprepared: Strategies for Stronger Schools and Healthy, Successful Kids. Dr. Pope lectures nationally on parenting techniques and pedagogical strategies to increase student health, engagement with learning, and integrity. She is a 3-time recipient of the Stanford University School of Education Outstanding Teacher and Mentor Award and was honored with the 2012 Education Professor of the Year “Educators’ Voice Award” from the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences.