Staff editorial: Lowering stress does not always equate to lowering standards

February 4, 2016 — by Nidhi Jain and Caitlin Ju

In reality, it is virtually impossible for the school to specify a level of academic rigor that can serve as a challenging yet realistic goal for all students. Given the proper guidance and information, students ultimately hold the responsibility to know what is best for themselves and to thus make healthy decisions.

 

 

Recently, David Aderhold, superintendent of the high-achieving West Windsor-Plainsboro school district in New Jersey, which is 10 minutes from Princeton University, sent a letter to the district’s parents calling for an end to the overwhelming academic stress in the community. Without a solution, he said in the letter, “We face the prospect of becoming another Palo Alto.”

Palo Alto, well known as the home of Stanford University, has become a little too well-known for its alarmingly high student suicide rate, a trend that is often attributed to academic, parental and peer stress. Sadly, the city has become associated with what a high pressure environment can do to students and what other schools should avoid.

But while it seems that too much academic pressure has become an issue that has been brought to light, the ways in which schools are attempting to lower the intensity of this stress are not the correct means to do so. Many schools are considering lowering school standards, but this is avoiding not solving the issue.

In Aderhold’s district, 120 middle and high school students were recommended for mental health assessments and 40 were hospitalized — not a far cry from the situation of top schools in the Valley.

Aderhold’s letter calls attention to the seemingly paradoxical problem that Saratoga High has too struggled with in trying to change its culture over the last few years: maximizing student well-being without compromising academic excellence.

Take some of Dr. Aderhold’s rigid changes, for example. They include no-homework nights and an end to high school midterms and finals. However, these reforms hurt students’ educational development, as homework is a necessary part of the learning process, helping students assess their progress and prepare for tests. No-homework nights are a weak solution to a larger underlying problem.

Our school should avoid this heavy-handed approach. For instance, SHS should not limit students on the number of APs a students can take. Recently, the administration has discussed changing the number of AP/Honors classes a student must take for their counselor to mark “yes” on college application forms to indicate whether or not that student has taken the most rigorous course load available.

A reform such as this one does not prevent students from taking as many AP classes as they would like to; it simply adjusts the overall standard so that students already taking four APs don’t push themselves to the breaking point to prove they’re taking a rigorous load.

The first new schedule proposed in early January with the 8:40 start time and a 40-minute lunch would have been more effective at relieving student stress while not lowering standards, and the eighth-period option would have allowed for more student flexibility.

But more effective than any administrative reforms would be supporting students to look within to strike the balance that works best for them. This would likely be most effective by having students talk to older student mentors about a certain class load. The students can find mentors who they think are most similar to them in order to most accurately determine a realistic yet challenging load.

Parents also need to change their approach toward their kids. Instead of helicopter parenting, they should seek to being merely supportive of their kids’ choices and abilities. Instead of insisting that all the boxes are checked for college admissions, parents have a responsibility to help keep their child physically and mentally healthy. Parents know better than counselors about their children’s limits, and it benefits the child more in the long run to feel as if they have someone who truly supports them.

Specifically in Saratoga, immigrant parents, often coming from cutthroat educational systems in countries such as China and India, seem to demand academic rigor more than any other parents. Although it may be difficult to hear, parents who come from these systems and have strict mindsets need to realize that no college is prestigious enough to justify complete suffering of their children in high school. Education systems in the U.S. are far different from the ones in other countries, and parents need to adjust their expectations accordingly.

In reality, it is virtually impossible for the school to specify a level of academic rigor that can serve as a challenging yet realistic goal for all students. Given the proper guidance and information, students ultimately hold the responsibility to know what is best for themselves and to thus make healthy decisions.

 
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