An Excellent Answer To An Unsatisfactory System

I am a chronic grade-obsessor. Tests, quizzes, orals — you name it, I worry about it. In fact, everyone I know here is a grade-obsessor to some degree. Well, except those ridiculously brilliant child prodigies who can compute eigenfunctions of the Schrodinger equation in the time it takes me to turn the dictionary to “eigenfunction.” These students are, fortunately for the rest of us, a minority. Andover students are reputed to be bright, motivated, and concerned about grades. Teachers, well-informed of this, use it in their arsenal of teacher-tricks to get the class to pay attention. Students don’t care about redox reactions? Simple – just give a quiz on it the next day. That’ll teach them to – God forbid – digress one more time in class. Why are teachers always demanding us to not care about the grade? Why should I be ashamed to be the first one to raise my hand and stammer, “Um, have you graded our tests yet?” And what exactly is so wrong about trying to push that 4 to a 5 anyways? Sure, I care about the learning process. Of course I would be more excited about a 6; I’d shed blood and tears for than a 6; I’d scribble the night before in a haze of Gatorade and caffeine pills. And I agree, crying over three points is excessive. But the truth is, at the end of the day, there is no other way to evaluate your progress. A grade is symbolic; a good grade is a pat on the back, and a bad one means you’re slacking off, you hate the teacher and the subject, and you just don’t care about your future. Slightly exaggerated perhaps, but why else would the academic restriction upon receiving a “D” at midterm feel so ominous? Grades are a cruel educational invention created by public school officials with too little time and too many students. Subjective, stress-inducing, and frankly, often a misrepresentation of a student’s efforts, grades do little but cause trouble. Particularly in subjects such as English and History, a 6 paper with one teacher may be a 4 paper with another because the “4 teacher” may have personal distaste for Sylvia Plath. Furthermore, a single test grade can bring down your entire GPA. Andover claims to care about each of its students, as demonstrated by the attempts made by Graham House, the Pace of Life Committee, etc. Fair enough. If Andover really wants to foster true love of learning, I propose complete eradication of the grading system here. Make every course pass/fail, as a surprisingly large number of colleges do, and include an evaluation of the student’s work throughout the trimester. What? Ridiculous, you say? Unrealistic and radical? Traditional opposing arguments tend to deal with student apathy and difficulty for college admissions to decipher the evaluations’ meanings. Well, in response, whatever the grading system may be, there will always be students who do not do well, because of apathy or otherwise. Evaluations will help further clarify the problem with a student’s poor grade, and a particularly acrid one will allow parents (and colleges) to see the true student often hidden behind an influx of numbers and scores. In addition, college admissions officers who have difficulty translating “Susie is very expressive” to “Susie is Harvard material” always have the freedom to contact individual teachers. SAT II scores, AP results, and other standardized tests can help establish competency. In fact, many well-known colleges (Brown, for instance) utilize this “pass-fail” system anyways, and will be familiar with – even respect – this system, especially from a prestigious school like Phillips Academy. We could even add “Excellent,” “Satisfactory,” and “Unsatisfactory” categories, which would still be less threatening than numbers, but easier and quicker to process. It would take much discussion, and a fair amount of tweaking, but I believe this pass/fail system has great potential. This is an Academy tradition that must be addressed. Here at Andover, we are exceptional students. We are versatile and hardworking. However, we are above all, teenagers – teenagers with limits. Teenagers need time to have fun, to enjoy learning, to feel comfortable in our first music class. It doesn’t matter how many times the administration changes the schedule or reduces the sports requirement. PA students will continue to lead stressful lives, become burnt out by freshman year of college, and sleep for less than six hours a night as long as this contemptible grading system haunts us.