Grades Are Due For a Change

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Matt Grant, Principal at Olympia High School.

Ethan Brickell , Journalist

Grades are on every student’s mind, but could the current grading system be ruining the relationship they create with their academics? By addressing some of its common failings some students and staff at Olympia High School acknowledge that the current grading system should be improved. They examine where it falls short and why changes are due. 

When considering what the point of grading students is, the answer seems quite obvious. Mr. Jacobs, English teacher and Department Head of English, points to his general philosophy that grades should reflect the learning of students or assess their learning in some way. Yet the best way to go about identifying how well a student has learned a given subject is a topic of much conversation and contemplation among teachers. When reflecting upon Olympia High School’s current grading practices, Jacobs believes that “taking a second look at policy in general could have some positive effects.” As to what changes he would like to see implemented, Jacobs believes more reassessment should be used. “Revision is important and a necessary thing in general,” he notes, a tenet true not only in writing essays but also in the larger scheme of our system of learning. Jacobs thinks students should have the ability to take an assessment, learn from it, and retake the assessment for a better score. Such an ideology is reminiscent of mastery based learning, a learning model Jacobs implements into his own classes, in which students aim to demonstrate complete mastery over concepts instead of doing whatever assignments will lead to the best percentage grade. Such a system works well in English classes where revision of writing is a natural step, but it may be more difficult to implement into other subjects. 

Mr. Snodgrass, English teacher, says he has no problem with mastery based learning as long as it is used in an equitable manner. He notes that whatever grading system we end up using in the future, it is essential that educators be completely behind it. Snodgrass takes a rather extreme view on the subject: He thinks grades should be done away with entirely because of the negative effects grades have on instilling students with a love for learning. However, while we continue to live in a world where post secondary education places much extrinsic value on grades, such a hope is unlikely to come into fruition at a competitive high school such as Olympia. 

The educators at Olympia High School have concerns encompassing not only how grades reflect a student’s learning but also how current grading policies affect the relationship students have with their academics and views towards school and learning as a whole. Matt Grant, Principle at Olympia High School, thinks “we teach students to have an extrinsic interest in grades rather than an intrinsic love for learning,” which can be detrimental to a student’s long term relationship with education. Snodgrass agrees with Grant, saying that school has become “about checking boxes, and learning isn’t one of the boxes.” Educators feel as if learning is transactional for students; they complete assignments in return for a good grade just as students with a part time job may exchange their time for money. School shouldn’t feel like a job for students, but because of the nature of grading policies it may very well feel like one to students who view above average grades as the currency needed to buy their way into an esteemed university. 

The people who are most affected by grading policies are the students, and thus it is of prime importance to consider their views. Henry Basanich, Olympia High School Junior, thinks “grades aren’t necessarily bad, but the way we’re using grades is bad.” He points to the unhealthy relationship students have with their grades as a key example of how the grading system is currently failing students. Basanich believes teachers should reinforce the idea that “it’s not about your grade it’s about learning something,” which Mr. Snodgrass, Basanich’s English teacher, does well, allowing Basanich to feel less stress in that class. “People equate grades with learning and that is unhealthy because it’s not true, what your grade is doesn’t say how much you’ve learned,” says Basanich, an ironic sentiment seeing as the entire purpose of grading students is to assess how much they have learned. If our grading system fails in its prime purpose, both in the eyes of students and teachers, then perhaps the system is due for a large change.