As the term ends and finals week is just around the corner, perhaps it is worth reminding ourselves that the grades listed on our report cards do not determine our self-worth or possible development as learners. But as any student would know, saying that grades don’t matter is more wishful thinking than reality. That leaves us with the big question that students must learn to grapple with over the four years at Andover: what do we do about grades?
First and foremost, we want to express that grading is more complicated than a simple numerical quantity associated with student performance. Sometimes, how students are graded can be composed of arbitrary means. Take, for example, Andover’s ‘faculty lottery,’ the random teacher assignment process that occurs within each student’s course selection. Teachers in all subjects vary widely in teaching style and grading systems. The lack of cohesive standards across each department makes it harder for students to understand what is expected of them and easier for many to be subjected to an unfair grading scale. Some teachers—without a strict curriculum to adhere to—may even neglect to include key elements of the learning process in their personalized syllabus, largely hindering a student’s opportunities to grow and improve. With vast grading disparities across departments, many students feel as if they have no choice but to ‘cheat the system’ in a desperate attempt to improve their learning experience. According to the 2020 “State of the Academy,” 45.9 percent of the student body attempted to switch teachers to obtain a better grade, while the statistic was 39.5 percent in 2021. In a situation where students have to rely on chance to end up with a satisfactory grade, a greater problem to be addressed within the school system rather than the student’s competency itself is revealed. A numerical grade is largely dependent on a teacher rather than reflective of the student’s performance itself.
However, simply understanding that “the number doesn’t matter” is not enough. For students, especially Seniors in their Senior Fall Term, while a grade is not indicative of a student’s worth in their totality, grades do matter. To ask students to simply not think about grades would be asking them to ignore an obvious truth. As teachers ask their students to prioritize their learning over the grade they receive, instructors must also remember that the number on the report card is not reflective of this learning and growth; it’s indicative of quantified success. Further, for students who have spent a pretty good chunk of their time being, in some way, shape, or form, the best, trying to shake off the urge to quantify our performances is easier said than done.
So, what must be done? Those who read our paper might often mistake our editorials for a written rant from angry board members of The Phillipian. While we often reserve space for rage in the editorial, we write this piece in hopes of presenting alternative modes of grading and assessing student performance in class. One direction to look at it in these considerations is Andover’s experimental learning project—The Workshop. The Workshop spans over Spring Term, in which Seniors can learn in a non-graded format. Essentially, students have the opportunity to undergo nontraditional, collective learning. While The Workshop requires students to apply and only have limited space, it is worth considering how this nontraditional, non-graded format of learning can also apply to classes in general. Getting rid of grades isn’t that radical. In fact, with large numbers of Seniors applying for The Workshop every fall, there is a positive and eager reception to the possibilities of non-graded learning. Another possible alternative is to associate the numerical grading scale of 1-6 with standards of growth and mastery, rather than say, a 6 ranging from 93-100. Some teachers at Andover already implement this system, creating a rubric of different standards a student can attain in a certain skill: beginning, approaching, proficient, and advanced.
At the end of the day, wishful thinking or not, there is so much of a student that a numerical grade cannot possibly encapsulate. As members of the Andover community—a school known for its intellectual vitality and rigorous curriculum—we must put in the effort to evaluate ourselves with a more holistic approach, even if that means betraying tradition and confronting the ugly truth.