The Student Council Policy Committee and faculty members organized a forum on grading and assessments on Friday, January 31. The committee members convened in Kemper Auditorium to provide an opportunity for students to voice their opinions on the current grading system and share alternate suggestions.
According to Newaz Rahman ’20, a member of the Student Council Policy Committee, preliminary stages of the forum began with an informal discussion between the committee and faculty members who expressed interest in researching the current grading system. Rahman noted that in an effort to further understand general student opinions regarding Andover’s grading policies, the group sent a survey to all students before the forum.
Rahman said, “The very first thing we did was talk about the grading system as a committee with Mr. Mangia and [Juan Gabriel Sanchez, Instructor in History], members of the faculty working group on grading, and we came up with our own perspectives about the issues. And then we opened up a survey to the whole school to have a good understanding of general student opinions, and out of that we got roughly 250 responses in preparation of the forum.”
During the forum, students and faculty were divided into smaller groups to discuss major concerns that emerged from the survey. Students were first asked to share their opinions on the current midterm grading system that only indicates a pass or fail for humanities courses.
According to Keishi Kimura ’20, a member of the Student Council Policy Committee, many students addressed their inability to determine their exact grades due to the ambiguity of the current midterm grading system. Kimura additionally observed that despite the administration’s intentions of reducing stress, students have expressed anxiety from the lack of clarity at the midterm.
“Some main points were that more students wanted specific midterm grading for humanity subjects, because a lot of students don’t know where they stand in terms of number grades from just by looking at their midterms. And that’s really something that’s important to basically almost everyone and the Policy Committee, as the majority of students that we’ve heard from said that showing specific grades would reduce their long-term anxiety,” said Kimura.
Attendee Abdu Sahibousdiq ’21 echoed Kimura’s sentiment by indicating the subjectivity of grading within the humanities, such as participation and effort. In order to reduce this vagueness, Sahibousdiq believes that teachers should specify areas of improvement for students.
Sahibousidq said, “The conclusion that I came to with the group is that midterm grades, especially for humanities classes that grade out of pass and fail, should be reformed to give a one-to-six scale. That would allow students to know where they are coming into the midterm, what they can improve on specifically. So much of the grading in those classes depends on subjective measures like participation and effort, and it’s really hard for students to calculate their own participation without teacher input. So we thought there were teachers sort of lacking in providing that input to students, so that they can better understand their grade.”
According to Kimura, another area of discussion included the potential replacement of the number grade system with alternate suggestions such as percentage-based grades. While Senior class representative Ugo O’Gonuwe ’20 argued that the implementation of a new percentage-based system might induce more anxiety within the student body, he also noted that the current number grade system does not accurately reflect a student’s effort in classes.
“I think during our small group discussion, one person shared her experience going to a percentage-based school. But then I worried that there would be some kind of cut-throat atmosphere, like the students trying to get from 91 percent to 92 percent. So even the smallest advance over someone else or on a test will matter too much to students who are already competitive,” said O’Gonuwe.
He continued, “But I think a system in which there is a clear difference between a low and a high five is important because of such a large disparity of how much work you put in. So you get a 92 percent in the class and get a five and 93 percent and get a six and it’s not really reflective of your effort, because you can get an 85 percent and still receive the same grade.”
The forum concluded by allowing students to share personal classroom experiences that they found to portray a fair grading system. Though facing opposition from other participants, Sahibousidq found that the submission of writing assignments without student names was a fair method of verifying an instructor’s objective standards.
“I know a lot of students had mixed opinions about anonymous grading, a system in which you submit assignments without the without your name on it. So the teacher doesn’t know it’s from you, and then they grade it. So a lot of people are for that, a lot of people are against that. So it’s kind of hard to say what is fair and what is unfair. I guess that’s the point of all forums and student feedback, but I guess there’s just a difference among the student body,” said Sahibousidq.
According to Sanchez, immediate changes in grading policies are unlikely due to profound disagreements among the participants. Sanchez believes, however, that the forum was a considerable start for students and faculty to understand each other’s perspectives regarding a more equitable and consistent grading policy.
Sanchez said, “As of right now, a lot of participants agree with certain aspects of grading, while still heavily disagreeing in many other specific details. This will likely lead to further discussion of the topic, rather than implicating immediate changes to the system. However, I think both the students and faculty members got to learn a lot of each other’s opinions on the topic. I think we should take each other’s criticisms with a grain of salt and work towards the common goal of creating an equitable educational experience that follows our school values.”
Though Senior class representative Ash Cohan ’20 indicated the unlikelihood of enacting grading policy changes during her remaining time at Andover, she believes that the forum allowed Seniors to share their knowledge for the betterment of younger students.
“I think it’s very important to get student input, especially in things that will affect the future of the school. That’s really important for students of all grades, especially for younger and prospective students who may actually see those changes be effective. For Seniors, we’ve been four years at this school, and we’ve seen what changes have been made. Even though it may not directly affect us, it’s going to impact the future of the school. So it’s our responsibility to contribute our knowledge [and] our experiences to the forums,” said Cohan.