Mind the Gap

In the results published last week from The Phillipian’s State of the Academy survey, 99 percent of the 844 students surveyed agreed that there are grading disparities between teachers of the same subject at Andover. I first noticed these discrepancies this October, about a month after I began my first year at Andover. Some teachers had more forgiving correction policies than others, while others had no correction policies at all. Some teachers were not as tough on in-class participation grading as others, while other teachers heavily considered such participation when determining their students’ grades. Unfortunately, since October, I have seen little change or recognition from the administration of grading disparities in the various academic departments at Andover. Grade inflation is a partiality, insofar that it is only bestowed upon a percentage of Andover students, often arbitrarily by inevitable differences in course sections and scheduling. Students entering a new class roll a dice as to whether inflationist grading policies will be to their benefit or to their detriment. Yet undoubtedly, the discrepancies in how different teachers grade tests and papers can have a significant impact on one’s academic career, and that should not be accepted. It is incumbent upon us to continue advocating for change, with the hope that there will be action taken by all departments in establishing uniformity in all sections of the same course. In an academic environment as competitive as Andover’s, it is a fundamental mistake for our departments to allow non-uniform assessment policies, especially when they come from identical classes taught by different teachers. Why should a student in a history course taught by Teacher A receive heavy and unrelenting homework loads, whereas another student in the same history course taught by Teacher B receives barely any, if any at all? The issue of non-uniformity is a pressing one: it can often reward similarly performing students with different grade tiers. Calling for a systematic approach to every class, in every subject, for every teacher is not only an infeasible demand, but also an inane one; different teaching styles appeal to different students. Still, it is necessary that we do our best to ensure that our grading system is as fair as possible. There are steps that can be taken to fix this alarming problem. A department meeting where teachers discuss the appropriate uses of corrections, curves or complete rewrites would help to solve the majority of the problem. A conversation between the teachers that instruct the same course — say all the teachers of Spanish 220 or Chemistry 550 — about the course’s syllabus could have a tremendous effect on the grades students receive: Do we curve the test? What are the grading cutoffs? In classes where a major part of the grade is not based on numbers and percentages, departments and classes could use the same rubrics and ensure that late policies and rewrite policies are the same. Students often insist on switching out of a class to move to another section of the same class. The material is not what intimidated them, nor was the timing of the class necessarily inconvenient; it was the teacher — and the assessment and workload that are associated with that specific teacher — that made them scurry away to another teacher. This process is called “teacher shopping.” By creating a uniform workload and assessment schedule across classes, “teacher shopping” would be virtually removed. Students would have the liberty to experience different teaching styles, to enjoy the same course load as peers in identical classes and to be assessed by their skills. Students, in short, would be picking their courses, not their teachers. Policies of uniform grading should not be anomalies, but universalities. All departments should decide upon uniform assessment and course-load policies at meetings that are held regularly enough to produce fair classes without being cumbersome to teachers. These meetings should be assisted and attended by members of our student government as objective representations of student interests. Andover’s atmosphere is ripe with stress and competition, whether subtle or overt, but this facet of our education should not be compounded by non-uniform grading policies. Students who have identical performances in identical classes with different teachers should receive identical grades.