A History of Grading at Andover

First proposed in “The Report of the Faculty Steering Committee of 1965-1966,” the 0 to 6 grading scale was implemented in 1968, a move away from the standard 1 to 100 scale. As Simeon Hyde, former Chair of the Steering Committee, stated in The Phillipian in January 1968, the changes were implemented to simplify the grading scale and “[reduce] radically the ‘atmosphere of competition’ at Andover.” 

Although the 0 to 6 scale used at the end of the term has since remained the same throughout the years, grading for the midterm, or mid-point, has undergone several changes. Initially, instructors used the following scale at the mid-point: Passing (Honors), Fail (F), Fail-Fail (FF), and Danger (D). Fail-fail is given to a grade below 50 percent, and danger is equivalent to a grade of 2 or lower on the current scale.

Later, the system was modified and varied across departments, where some used a Pass (P), Low Pass (LP), and Failure (F) scale during mid-point, while others employed the 0 to 6 scale. Over time, fewer and fewer departments adhered to the 0 to 6 scale for mid-point grades. As of Fall Term 2022, all departments now use the Passing (P), Low Passing (LP), and Not Yet Passing (NYP) scale, a system designed to promote student growth over the course of the term.

Caroline Odden, Dean of Studies and Instructor in Physics, shared her opinion on the current grading scale. She believes this simpler system can encourage students and instructors toward a more productive learning environment.

“I like the 0-6 grading scale. I agree with the idea that having a less granular system is helpful. The focus for students and instructors should always be on the learning, and anything we can do to push in that direction is a good thing, in my opinion… While no system is perfect, I am confident that changes the faculty has made have been in service of student learning, growth, and support,” wrote Odden in an email to The Phillipian.

Paul Murphy ’84, Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science, noted an increase in the distribution of higher grades in past years. He attributed this trend partially to changes in assessment methods, as educators have expanded their understanding of the various ways that students learn. New methods include grading for homework, participation, and group assessments.

“When you’re assigning a grade to a student, you’re giving them a chance to put forth their best effort in whatever way that is. [Since] we are a school that brings kids from so many different backgrounds, the definition of a good student has become broader and wider. For instance, when I first came here, there was a perception that if you weren’t participating in class, you weren’t engaged. We understand humans better now. We now know that [being] quiet in class doesn’t mean that you’re not engaged,” said Murphy. 

Murphy continued, “We have to keep growing our sense of where everyone’s coming from and not make everyone fit into some way of thinking. [We’ve] also understood that it’s really difficult to assign a number to a student’s performance. Classrooms over time have changed. Our classrooms are much healthier than when I was first here.”

In addition to changes in the wider educational world, Murphy believes the culture around college admissions has influenced these grading trends as well. He hopes that students can instead focus on their learning experience at Andover.

“It’s fair to say also that the college process has pushed us in that direction. I don’t think it’s pressure, so much as it is this worry that a low [grade], and a 3 or a 4 might actually be a low enough grade, might jeopardize someone’s college admission… It’s hard, because a lot of families are thinking that [Andover] is about getting into college… I wish we would have less of an eye toward [that]… Learn for the sake of learning,” said Murphy.

John Bird, Instructor in English, shared a similar sentiment, emphasizing that grades often undermine a student’s learning experience. Bird expressed that grades are an unproductive and often inaccurate way to evaluate a student’s performance.

“Honestly, grades don’t actually tell us much. I feel like grading is probably the least interesting part of a student [and] the least interesting part of my job… Grades loom really large. It puts a lot of pressure on you, it puts a lot of pressure on me. I know the effects that grades have on kids. It’s hard, it actually affects how I grade. I also think that it’s a drag. [Grading] is not actually why anyone teaches,” said Bird.

According to Odden, there are no immediate plans to change the grading system. However, new developments in Andover policies remain an ongoing conversation.

“There is a Learning Steering Committee [LSC] at work right now discussing many aspects of school. It is possible that conversations in the LSC might lead to a recommendation to change the grading system. Those conversations are just getting started, so it is too early to tell at this point whether this group may ultimately recommend a change to the grading system,” wrote Odden in an email to The Phillipian.