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What's Wrong with Straight A's?

Why straight A's can be a sign of trouble

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Updated May 15, 2014

Young boy asleep in classroom
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Most parents want their children to do well in school, and that usually means getting A's. They believe that good grades will help guarantee that their children will lead happy, productive, and successful lives. While good grades can be an indication that children will grow up to excel in life as they did in school, it's far from a guarantee. In fact, straight A's can actually be a sign that your child isn't learning what he needs to learn in order to be successful in life.

What Do Grades Reflect?

While we may all want our children to get good grades, we should ask ourselves what grades mean and what exactly it is that they reflect. What grades ought to reflect is how much a child has learned and in most cases, that is what they reflect. Looking at it another way, though, grades may just reflect what a child knows. The difference is that if grades reflect what a child knows rather than what a child has learned, a child can get straight A's without having learned anything. In other words, a child can start out the school year already knowing most of the material that will be covered during the year and will easily get A's on assignments and tests. But isn't that a good thing? Aren't straight A's a sign that a child will do well throughout school and in life? Maybe. And maybe not.

Ability and Potential

Identifying gifted children can be a difficult task, but it is an important one. Many people believe that gifted children are those who will "rise to the top" in school. They are the students who will excel and get straight A's. However, that is not always the case. Some gifted kids are underachievers whose grades do not seem to match their abilities. Lack of good grades does not mean that a child is not gifted. Gifted children retain their ability and potential even though their grades in school don't reflect either. But what do straight A's say about ability and potential? Surprisingly, they may not say much more than the grades of underachieving students. Both groups of students start out with great potential, but abilities alone aren't enough to ensure success in life.

Grades as a Reflection of Effort

Let's consider again what grades reflect. They may reflect what a child already knows or what a child has learned. Is knowledge enough, though, to enable someone to be successful? What do the grades say about the effort a child put into the work that earned the A's? If a child already knows the information, it is unlikely that she had to do much to get those A's. If a child has learned new material, but didn't have to work very hard to learn it, then she hasn't learned much about the importance of hard work and effort.

It's not unusual for parents of some children to comment that they wish their child didn't have to work so hard to get good grades. But that hard work is exactly what is needed to be successful! And that is the potential problem with a child getting straight A's. It may be a sign that the work your child is doing in school is too easy for him. Some high schools may use weighted grades, but that won't help those students who haven't yet learned the value of hard work and effort.

Some people don't believe in the "gifted" label. In fact, they think that parents ought to erase the word from their vocabulary. While it's not the best strategy to launch into a discussion of your child's giftedness the first time you talk to your child's teacher, pretending it doesn't exist isn't such a good idea either. For one thing, gifted kids often feel different from the other kids and may not understand why. If a child feels that way, it can help to talk to them about being gifted. For another, the term is a commonly used term to refer to a specific group of children with a specific set of special needs. For example, gifted kids generally need more in-depth instruction presented at a faster pace. Programs for these kids are frequently called "gifted" programs (although some ought to be renamed "high achiever" programs).

What is important is that a gifted child, whether labeled or not, needs to be challenged. If the label helps deliver that challenge, then great. But if not, the label doesn't matter. Unless a child, no matter how bright, how gifted, needs to work for good grades, he won't learn what he needs to be successful -- the importance of hard work. In fact, he might not even learn HOW to work hard. If everything comes too easily to him, then he's going to think that he needs nothing more than his ability to be successful.

The Potential Problem with Straight A's

If your child is getting straight A's without trying, it could be a sign that she is not being challenged. And without challenge, there is no effort. Once a child gets out of school and into the work force, no one is going to look at her grades any more. Those grades aren't going to open any more doors or ensure success in your child's chosen field. For that, your child is going to have to understand the importance of effort and know how to meet a challenge. This is not to say that grades aren't important, but unless those grades reflect not just knowledge and learning, but also effort and hard work, your child may not achieve the success in life that you might expect from those straight A's.

It won't be easy, but if your child is getting straight A's without putting in any effort, you will want to talk to your child's teacher. Be forewarned, though. Most people will think you should just be grateful your child gets A's so easily.
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