Academic Validation: The Issues with a Single Measure of Intelligence

Olivia Palmbos (’23) writes a timely piece on academic validation. “Academic validation, stemming from a need to feel validated in one’s intelligence based on academic success, is a surprisingly normalized occurrence in our society that can warp into a toxic mindset under the wrong pretense.”

As October fades into November and fall settles into winter, the Skyline student body adjusts once again to a new academic year. Projects and testing in classes are beginning to escalate, and, unsurprisingly, grades are starting to flood PowerSchool in anticipation of the end of Trimester 1. As the old patterns of academia return, so do old habits, including the age-old mindset of academic validation – an indulgence that even I find myself falling prey to. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a notification for a good grade popping up in the gradebook…and nothing more distressing than seeing a notification for a bad one.

Academic validation, stemming from a need to feel validated in one’s intelligence based on academic success, is a surprisingly normalized occurrence in our society that can warp into a toxic mindset under the wrong pretenses. As easy as it is to fall into an unhealthy mindset of academic validation, it is critical to remember that grades, no matter how important they may seem, are not an accurate measure of intelligence. Too frequently, the concept of intelligence is measured on a single standard. Grades, SAT scores, or GPA are often misconstrued to be an indication of how “smart” an individual is, stemming from a misguided and singular conception of intelligence. In fact, according to an article from CNBC citing the studies of esteemed Harvard psychology professor Howard Gardner, there is not one definition of intelligence, but rather eight: spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, linguistic, logical-mathematical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic intelligence. These newfound definitions of intelligence span beyond tests and quizzes, and cover a spectrum of talents that are not represented in a grading atmosphere. From artistic prowess and a knack for musical rhythm, to an innate understanding of community and self, Gardner acknowledges that intelligence cannot be summed up in a number or letter grade. Rather, intelligence is wonderfully diverse, and can be displayed in a host of different ways, incapable of being measured by a single unit. Although there are more than eight different types of intelligence, studies show that only one type of intelligence is emphasized in the education system, specifically when it comes to grading and assessments: logical-mathematical intelligence. In other words, grading represents one eighth of all natural intelligences, rendering it an inadequate measure of how “smart” a student is. Tests don’t demonstrate a student’s skill, but rather their skill set within one area of expertise. We, as both a student body and academic establishment, need to move away from this faulty definition of intelligence, and instead towards a wider representation of intelligence within the school community.

This is not to say, however, that taking pride in one’s grades is a bad thing. Often, working hard on an assignment and seeing payoff in the grade received can be affirming and uplifting. However, what is important to remember is not to stake one’s worth on academic validation. Grades cannot, and will not, provide an accurate representation  of the diversity of  intelligences in a student body, nor one’s worth as a person.