“Passing” on Comments

In an editorial published by The Phillipian on April 29, 2016 entitled “No Comment,” The Phillipian, vol. CXXXIX discussed the school’s policy of discluding comments in midterm reports during the Winter and Spring Terms for students who earn a three or above in the class. The previous board’s piece called for the “reimplementation of [midterm] comments” and “that the midterm report system mandate teachers to write specific reports for each student.”

Last year, however, was, in fact, the first year with mandated student reports or conferences for the Winter 2015-2016 Term, as endorsed and approved by faculty. No such policy existed for any other midterms prior to last year.

While we applaud the Dean of Studies office and their efforts in implementing last year’s new student report schedule, The Phillipian, vol. CXL revisits this topic of midterms because we firmly believe that student midterm feedback should not be limited to the Fall and Winter Terms.

Humanities, social sciences, and languages all use a “Pass/ Fail” grading system, which for us — the students — give no insight into how we may improve our performance for the second half of the Spring Term. Vague “P”s or “F”s render the very concept of the midterm report pointless, irrelevant to students and parents alike. More often than not, students know whether or not we are passing or failing a class. But we need more than a single letter to determine exactly where we stand.

Even in STEM classes, where students receive a numerical grade on our midterm reports, there is no feedback given on how to best improve a student’s performance for the rest of the term. Students can easily assign themselves a numerical grade on the 0-6 scale, calculated from percentages listed in class syllabuses or as shown on Canvas. Yet, what students really need is guidance from teachers concerning, perhaps: our study habits, class participation, specific concepts we should spend more time with, or an invitation to conference period.

Even students who receive a three or above deserve a thoughtful note or two concerning our classwork.

This begs the question: whom is this midterm policy for? It can’t be for students, who gain no additional understanding of our class performance from a Pass/ Fail or an easily predetermined number. It’s certainly not for parents, who want to know how their child behaves and functions as a student at a distant boarding school, and may have never even met the teacher by whom their child is instructed.

Of course, it’s easier on teachers to abstain from posting comments, but where is the value in having midterm reports without messages from faculty? This halfway-point in the term is a time for reflection, arguably more important than final reports; it’s a chance for students to receive documented notes from instructors concerning growth. By the time finals arrive, any advice teachers may have had is too little too late. When we open our student report dashboards, an imprecise grade can leave us with more questions about our class standing than we had before.

For Winter Term, faculty have the option of eschewing brief midterm reports in favor of holding conference period discussions, a fair alternative, if enforced. Moving forward, we hope that midterm conferences will be offered to students in both the Spring and Winter Terms. Another feasible substitution would be to require faculty to fill out the drop-down menu with space for individual grades in attendance, in-class behavior, use of support resources, and more on the student dashboard.

Even this slight individualization would provide students with a more complete knowledge of how to improve for the second half of the term. In the absence of similar thoughtfulness towards midterm grades, there’s simply no purpose in having these reports at all.

This editorial represents the views of The Phillipian, vol. CXL.