Lake Zurich High School Student Media

At Lake Zurich and beyond, students contend with meeting and raising expectations

October 9, 2017

That when listening to any group of high school students,  the conversations inevitably turns to one topic: balancing workloads. The halls of Lake Zurich are filled with complaints and anxiety over AP classes, extracurriculars, and pleasing college admissions counselors. Even if a student is not an incredibly high achiever themselves, they may feel inferior when their peers boast of caffeine-fueled days and nights of cramming for exams.

This romanticism of academic anxiety has a real, negative  impact on students and often creates an incorrect idea of what is expected of them. When even outings with friends are under constant threat of turning into academic complaint sessions, it is easy to see why sometimes students feel like they cannot escape the constant reminders that achievement should be their highest priority. That when listening to any group of high school students,  the conversations inevitably turns to one topic: balancing workloads. The halls of Lake Zurich are filled with complaints and anxiety over AP classes, extracurriculars, and pleasing college admissions counselors. Even if a student is not an incredibly high achiever themselves, they may feel inferior when their peers boast of caffeine-fueled days and nights of cramming for exams. This romanticism of academic anxiety has a real, negative  impact on students and often creates an incorrect idea of what is expected of them. When even outings with friends are under constant threat of turning into academic complaint sessions, it is easy to see why sometimes students feel like they cannot escape the constant reminders that achievement should be their highest priority.

At Lake Zurich, these expectations are even built into the classic high school timeline. Despite the fact that  only slightly more than two-thirds of American 2016 graduates went to college after high school, seniors are bombarded with college information, with Decision Day being considered a quintessential milestone of senior year. While of course all students should have the opportunity to go to college,  members of the Lake Zurich community and the student body do not have perspective on what is expected of most teenagers outside of the suburban environment. As a result, students who are going to trade schools or less elite universities feel left out or like their post-graduation plans do not measure up to the standards of their community or peers.

Conversely, an oft-forgotten factor in the conversation around high school expectations is the fact that many students, both at Lake Zurich and nationally, are being underestimated.

When some students are told they will naturally achieve more than others, this can be a self-fulfilling prophecy In 1964, a Robert Rosenthal, a Harvard psychologist, told a small group of schoolchildren that they were on the cusp of a dramatic growth in IQ–despite them being no different than the control group. The students who had been told that they would reach new heights consistently performed better.

Similarly, according to a New York University study conducted in May 2017, even after controlling for attendance, standardized test scores, and other factors, teachers still low-balled the abilities of Black and Hispanic high schoolers.

According to the Illinois School Report Card created from Board of Education data, the achievement gap between low-income and high-income students at Lake Zurich as measured by scores on the PARCC tests is above the Illinois state average. Because of the effects of being underestimated, we need to make sure that our expectations of students match what they are actually capable of and watch for internalized biases that might impact that.

To fix this problem, we need to listen to students and reduce the stigma of lightening your workload for the sake of mental health. It is also important to make sure we are forming our expectations of students on their abilities rather than race, income, or other factors they cannot control. A top priority moving forward needs to be ensuring that every kid can manage the expectations of themselves and has the confidence to assert themselves socially and academically.

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