What Was Your GPA? – November 2018

by Superintendent Steinhoff

GPA with Graduate HatHow many of you can think back to your school days and remember your GPA?  Were you a 2.0 student, perhaps a 3.25, or maybe even a 4.0 student?  I can remember mine like it was yesterday because I graduated high school with a 4.0 GPA and was the valedictorian of my graduating class.  Ironically, twelve years before that I was starting my second fall as a kindergartner.  Yes, I took 1.25 years of kindergarten because my first year ended after parent-teacher conferences.  My mom came home crying and asked me if I liked school.  I told her, “no”.  She then asked if I wanted to stay home and I quickly said, “yes”.  The next day I was back to hauling cattle with my babysitter’s husband and wearing my five buckle overshoes to make sure I was prepared to clean out the trailer.  I loved those days and can still close my eyes and think back to sitting in the front seat with Dale as we transported cattle across eastern South Dakota.

Does being the valedictorian mean that I was the student that learned the most or was the smartest to walk across the stage in May of 2000 at Northwestern High School in Mellette, South Dakota?  Absolutely not.  I was maybe in the top 33% of my class when it came to other indicators of academic success such as ACT scores.  The fact was that I became good at school.  I learned to know what was expected of me in each of my classes and I made sure to meet those expectations.  I know that I worked hard for the grades that I received; however, I also know that there were many classmates that actually learned and retained more information than I did.

As an educator, I have witnessed students talk about their GPA’s and consider dropping certain classes to make sure they are able to maintain their high GPA.  The interesting thing about this is that those students that chose to avoid tough classes may have not hindered their GPA’s but may have missed learning more in the process and helping other areas of measurement such as their ACT score or Work Keys Tests.

Karen Arnold, a researcher at Boston College, followed 81 high school valedictorians and salutatorians from graduation onward.  She found that they were successful in college and landed professional careers. However, none of them accomplished great things that changed or impressed the world.  Following the rules does not create success.  It does eliminate the good and bad extremes which means that valedictorians and salutatorians are not likely to take big risks.

I believe that my life thus far is a fair example of Arnold’s research.  My post-high school life has been successful, but I’ve not taken big risks or stepped outside the box to change the world.  I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but rather that GPA does not always correlate to success after school.  I personally feel that perseverance, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity need to be part of the mix when we prepare our students for their futures.

As we strive for continuous improvement at Oakes Public Schools, I encourage you to think about GPA and consider whether it was a true indicator for you in your success after high school.  If not, are we putting too much emphasis on a measurement that isn’t a predictor of our student’s success after high school?

“Go as far as you can see; when you get there, you’ll be able to see further.” Thomas Carlyle