Perspectives: Is South’s new grading system working?

graphic by Emily Cheng

Yes – Aden Tom

No – Danielle Berdichevsky

The “You are more than your GPA” stickers on students’ and teachers’ laptops scream hypocrisy when you realize the test that’s worth half your grade is next week. Academic stress at South extends to all facets of students’ lives: it is almost impossible to not be constantly worried about the flashy numbers on Schoology. 

When distance learning commenced, South transitioned to a grading policy that focused on students conceptualizing material rather than regurgitating information on tests. In the past, assessments dominated term grades, a single test could significantly derail a student’s overall performance. Was the old grading policy fair? What if someone got a harder teacher who grades more harshly? What if someone who isn’t a great test taker has quizzes and tests every week? All these what-ifs created a subjective and unpredictable standard for students. The new grading policy, however, accurately depicts one’s understanding of content and eliminates unnecessary toxicity at South.

In my freshman year, I entered South excited to learn. However, in just two or three months, my drive and passion for school wilted away. I would spend hours cramming random pieces of information into my brain in hopes it would stay for the next day’s test. I burnt out due to the excessive hours I devoted to school. The focus of class shifted from learning to memorizing and stressing about grades. Until the most recent grading policy, South was notorious for the “get this done for a grade” culture that ruined the learning experience. What’s the point of school if you only care about getting a good grade on a test, only to forget the content the next day?

The current grading policy, however, was created to accommodate the hurdles of online learning; challenges like staring at a screen for hours to having bad WiFi can hinder student performance. For starters, South eliminated pluses and minuses for grades.. The grades are more generalized, as it’s hard to differentiate the gray area between grades through a screen and with limited class time. 

Even with the changes, grades won’t be affected considerably as they are rewarded upon mastery of content in addition to effort. The emphasis on targeting specific goals helps more accurately assess people’s understanding and engagement because they are deeply absorbing material rather than merely preparing for a test. As a happy bonus, people are becoming increasingly less obsessed with their and others’ grades, which previously was a staple of South’s toxic atmosphere.

South is an extremely stressful school, as people compete to get into prestigious colleges and build the idealistic vision of their future. Naturally, toxicity is going to be present. Grades and test scores are unnecessary fuel to an already-burning fire. I’m sure most of us have compared grades on a test with others: someone got a 95, someone else got an 89, and you received a 76. How does that make you feel? You could’ve spent hours and hours studying and thinking that you were going to ace the test. Comparing test scores can lower one’s self esteem and sometimes demotivate people from trying in school. 

Compared to the old grading system, the new one encourages learning, growth and exploration, as grades aren’t high stakes.The new grading policy could definitely have minor adjustments, but, regardless, the grading policy puts me at ease knowing that I’ll be judged on my understanding of a topic, not my scores on tests.

It’s early November, our first-term grades have been delivered. Without any real grades, I’m not sure what to expect, but I open my report card to discover I’ve received an A. What does this A even suggest? 

This year, grades are so arbitrary that an A can mean anything from stellar work to an unfinished — but satisfactorily started —  assignment. Such a nebulous range causes confusion and a lack of motivation, consistency and determination from students.

Even though grade inflation is frequently thought to positively impact students’ mental health, it can often do more harm than good. The allure of a higher grade often incentivizes students to work hard, while grade inflation often gives students an excuse to slack off.

South’s new plan makes high grades more attainable, enabling students to believe that putting in minimal effort can provide results good enough to receive a stellar grade. This is not the mindset South should be teaching its students; South’s students should be aiming for more than “good enough.”

I came into distance learning excited to enjoy school and get a break from South’s characteristic stress. Instead, I am halfway through the second term having learned nothing. Even though the pandemic is a special circumstance, it’s even more important to be learning at this time of uncertainty. Learning can help students feel more informed about what is going on around them, but to be able to successfully learn, students need inspiration, motivation and determination. Grade inflation has taken those away, causing students’ priorities to shift away from school. 

I have unfortunately succumbed to this mindset. I find myself turning in sloppy work, participating less and not taking notes during class. It can feel like there’s no point in working hard if you’re going to get the same grade with less effort. 

I used to pride myself on the study plans I created. Now, when I hear “quiz,” that fiery, determined feeling is gone; instead, I feel absolutely nothing. Without needing to earn good grades, people have stopped caring about school and have lost the ability to work hard. 

Another critical flaw of grade inflation is that it rewards substandard performance. I have definitely turned in terrible work and still gotten an A, the same grade received by a student trying their best. The new grading system does a disservice to hardworking students, who receive the same letter grade as those who put in no effort at all. By giving “lazy” students — who are only lazy due to the grading system — an advantage, the grading system is also making it more difficult for colleges to determine a student’s work ethic or true academic success.

 Every applicant has different strengths, and those who rely on their academics will look average and become less competitive applicants, diminishing their confidence. At the other extreme, those who are suddenly receiving a ton of As begin to assume they possess a thorough understanding of the concept. Picture this: you are typically a C student and now you are getting tons of As just for turning in your work. You think to yourself, “I am doing great!” Then, you head on down to take your AP test feeling confident you have grasped what was taught. You wait for the results and are shocked to discover you did quite poorly because there was no indication that you were struggling.

People’s grades should reflect their understanding of a subject and prepare them for tests such as the AP exams, SATs and ACTs. Seeing a lower letter grade in school helps the student recognize what they need to work on and where they may need help. Grade inflation minimizes the potential for growth.

The goal of this grading system is to create a more equitable system, but it’s achieving quite the opposite. Grade inflation completely disregards the students who are trying their hardest in class. Though it is definitely important to focus on those who are struggling, that doesn’t mean that the ones who are doing well should be ignored.

Based on many conversations with my friends about the learning plan for this year, it has become apparent that school is undemanding. They are always talking about how “school is easy” and how “I’m not learning anything”. 

Our current grading system is causing students to miss the curriculum taught during class, and though a grade A average can definitely be a good thing, in this case, it covers for unmotivated students, sloppy work and an uncertain future.