At every school, students constantly talk to one another about which courses to avoid and which to chase after before they submit course requests. Whether it be that mandatory prerequisite you have to pass with flying colors or the filler course that you have no intention of trying that hard on, students dissect the course offerings with their peers, exchanging information and personal experience. Recently, however, due to the blatant grade disparity present at Andover, choosing your courses has become less about a teacher’s personality or habits, but rather how they grade. Decentralized grading within the same discipline results in harmful discrepancies in the amount of work that some students do in comparison to others, and adds another layer of college-related stress that students shouldn’t have to worry about.
Grades shouldn’t depend on who your teacher is, but instead on the amount of work you have put in or how much you have learned and improved. But the unfortunate truth is that here at Andover, your teacher matters most. Let’s take the history department as an example. I have had a total of three different teachers spanning from my Junior Fall to Lower Winter, and the difference in work required to get the same grades is astonishing. Some teachers care simply about the topic sentences being complete, while other teachers consider the syntax, thesis, diction, and so much more. I understand that teachers have a right to maintain individuality by teaching students what they believe are the most important parts of their subject matter. However, this individuality should not affect the grading standards so drastically.
Furthermore, teachers at Andover often fall under two different categories: the “Everyone will get a six as long as they do what I ask” category, and its antithesis, the “I won’t be giving any sixes” category. This difference of the standards that a student is held to and the resulting variation in grade distribution are both absurd. It is unfair that with one teacher, a student has to spend many late nights laboring for a grade that another student is awarded solely by checking basic items off a list. Though a student might achieve the same overall grade as another peer in another class, their final grade will not necessarily reflect the amount of work each put in. Moreover, it is terribly unfair that some teachers have simply taken a six off of the table. If a grade is present on the scale, a student should be able to achieve it.
Andover admits that it is a school with a rigorous curriculum. Many teachers here are not shy to let you know that it is hard to get a six in their class, and they tell you that in college, good grades won’t come easily. In order to set you up for success, these teachers push their students to exceed expectations. On the other hand, some teachers believe that, at the end of the day, a good grade on their transcript and less pressure is what students need. These two extremes also tremendously impact the quality of students’ learning. On one end of the spectrum, some people feel like their teacher’s expectations are unfairly high in the name of “preparing you for the real world,” while others barely even try because they know their grade will be satisfactory. When students aren’t pushed to develop healthy educational habits before they head off to college, they will most likely find themselves failing even harder later on. At the same time, it is hard to be motivated to study and retain the information needed to succeed in a class when the opportunity for success is taken off the table entirely. At the end of the day, both ends of the spectrum are harmful for students.
Grades are important. Whether we like it or not, and whether it is healthy for students or not, grades are currently a pivotal indicator of success that will play a large role in getting many students where they need to go. There needs to be a centralized list of requirements for each department, especially those in the humanities, regarding what is expected of all students and teachers. The details of each teacher’s curriculum may reflect their personal priorities and expertise, but all teachers should have about the same standard for the amount of work required to attain each grade on the grading scale, and if a teacher wants to push their students a little more, they should be required to give an outline of what students can do to attain a higher grade. “I won’t be giving sixes” cannot be acceptable when other teachers have no problem passing them out virtually for free.
Grades are and will always be a major source of stress for most students. The least Andover, as a high-pressure institution, can do is uphold consistency in how students are evaluated so that we don’t have to agonize over how unfair our grading system is as well.
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