I came across a letter recently written to a class of students from a teacher in Lancashire at the end of the school year. In it the teacher gave out results from exams as well as praising the students’ efforts over the year and complimenting them on other areas of excellence. It made me think. The Leaving Certificate results will be out very soon and I would imagine that nerves are frayed in many households across the land. The sixth year students have spent many arduous years preparing for this day. For some it has been a fun and adventurous journey. For others, the whole school experience has been a condition they can’t wait to outgrow. But will the release of the grades achieved be a true measure of a students’ ability? Will the grades reflect the talent, the natural flair, the interest and aptitude of that particular teenager? Are good exam results a real measure of a person’s worth?
I think not. Don’t get me wrong. Academic achievement is very important and good grades will get you into a good University which will give you more options in carving out a good career for yourself. However, the exam results don’t take into account other talents. Unfortunately entry into many third level courses is not interview based. The computer system allocating places to a teaching course won’t know for example that one particular student taught her little brother to read and to count before he went to school. Another college selecting people for a complicated Architecture degree probably don’t know that the long lanky teenage boy who didn’t get the required grade in maths has been building complex and intricate Lego structures since he was very small. And what about the student who got enough points for Pharmacy but would be much more suited to using his exceptional guitar skills and following a musical path?
Exam results aren’t always a measure of worth. This letter recognised that standard tests and set exams don’t necessarily assess what it is that makes each student special and unique. These are the things that each student needs to embrace and celebrate and remember. Especially if the results don’t go exactly according to plan, which isn’t at all unusual.
So when the results come out this August, what will our teenagers learn? Well, undoubtedly they will learn that what goes around comes around. By this I mean the results generally speak for themselves. Failing a disaster on the day of the exam itself, the results reflect the work put in. But where do we go from here? Parents will be ready to celebrate or commiserate as the situation requires. They will be prepared with buckets of sympathy and buckets of champagne in equal measures. But tread carefully because to their dying day many students will remember their parents initial reaction to the long awaited result card. They will seek support from the people they have gone through the trauma of exams with and will huddle in packs as they as they dissect and count, console and congratulate. Despite being through the experience every step of the way with them, the chances are that they will turn to their buddies instead. Not a lot to be done about this I’m afraid. In fact, it could be the lesser of two evils really as they take themselves, their long lanky limbs and their sorrow or euphoria elsewhere.
But is coming out with 500 points good enough if our teenagers are clueless when it comes to real life? I would rather they were able to express themselves in a positive way, interact with people and understand about boundaries. I would prefer fewer points and higher levels of self-esteem. I would take second choices over first heartbreak any day. I would rather measure their coming of age by the company they keep, the values they hold dear and the pastimes they are passionate about than by the amount of A’s in obscure subjects. Exam results are all very well, but I value my children too much, I have invested too much time in them to judge them by exam results on a scrap of paper. They are worth so much more than that and always be.