Setting the Standards

One week into Spring Break, each student had a white envelope delivered to his or her doorstep holding the results of two months of hard academic work. The hours of studying, writing, memorizing, and testing of the past term determined the kind of news that letter would bear. The papers inside included a fateful list of numbers from 0 to 6, evenly lined in the middle of the paper, and ending in one big round number representing the average for all the term’s work. Good or bad, these numbers stood clear and resolute, yielding little room for confusion. On paper, PA’s grading system gives the impression of being unmistakably black and white. However, what may seem like a clear method is in fact incredibly ambiguous, and fails to adequately or fairly represent the quality of a student’s work. Our system needs to be more transparent for the students by becoming more specific and with clearer guidelines for teachers to follow. With a population of over 1,000 students, PA shows a broad array of work levels but its grading system is much too rigid to reflect such range. Making term grades more specific will diminish any uncertainty and more clearly represent the level of work. Considering the significant difference in quality between 4+ work and 4- work, we need plus and minus signs or decimal points included in final grades to fairly represent student work. It is unfair for a student who has shown work on the border between 4 and 5 to end the term with the same grade as a student who had been just getting by with work between a 3 and 4. Essays are graded with plus and minus, so why can’t final grades have them too? Furthermore, students who see a 4+ or 4.8 on their report card will be more motivated to work harder the next term, since they can see the 5 is close and obtainable. The 0 to 6 scale leaves too much room for interpretation by the individual teachers. We need to better define the differences from one grade to the next. For example, some teachers consider a 6 to be above exceptional, and therefore refuse to award them frequently, while others are more likely to give them. First, the Blue Book should give specific number guidelines (i.e. a 5 is 85-92) so that the grading scale cannot be left up to a teacher’s personal discretion. This is important for classes such as Math and Science, which depend on number percentages for grades. Secondly, we need faculty from each department to meet so they might finally determine specific guidelines for the more subjective parts of their grading. This is especially important for classes such as English and History, in which grades are more personal and not dependent on a number average. For example, all students take English 100, but each section varies in difficulty from the others because different teachers have unique expectations. A 4 in one instructor’s perspective could be a 6 by another’s. Consequently, students who are equally proficient in one subject might receive completely different grades. This room for unfairness needs to be diminished; the playing ground needs to be leveled. A student’s grade average can be hurt or helped depending on the rigor of their classes. For example, one student might have lower grades compared to another even though he or she works harder and at a higher level because his or her course list is filled with challenging AP courses. Therefore, to reflect these variables, the average class grade should be listed on the transcript along with the individual’s grade. Comparing the individual’s grade to overall class performance will give a better perspective and a more definite idea of how the student preformed with respect to the difficulty of the class. Furthermore, comparing one student’s grade to the average of the others will bring to light truly outstanding work. Another issue with our grading system is so unorthodox that it is difficult for people outside of PA to understand. When a college admissions officer inquires about a GPA, the answer must be accompanied by an explanation of our scale. Unfortunately, that problem can be solved only by converting to the conventional “A, B, C” grading system, which the school should not do because it is not prepared for such a drastic change. We need a more specific, fairer form of grading. Every day, Andover students work for hours completing work for their classes, but the unfortunate truth is that in many cases, students are working for a good grade instead of mastery of a subject. The amount of emphasis which we put on grades must deem a system which is worthy of reflecting our work. It is hard to sum up a term of writing, studying, and reading in one grade, but with these changes, our currently inadequate system will do a fairer job.