by Julia Lee & Anahitha Menon, News Editor & News Reporter
graphic by Julie Wang
In light of grading discrepancies in many departments’ testing practices, students and faculty have been working to create universal test retake policies across the school.
South has never had an official policy that mandates test retakes. Currently, only the history department follows a uniform policy, which allows students to retake a test if they initially scored below 80%.
Department head Jennifer Morrill said that changes during the pandemic forced her to reevaluate the way the department assesses grades.
“During COVID, everything was kind of thrown up in the air,” she said. “You have to think about how fair it is to grade students in this atmosphere, and that made us have conversations, and then pushed us to reconsider some of our approaches.”
Although the math department has not enforced a retake policy, department head Alex Kraus said that he has experimented with different grading policies in his own classroom.
“I’m looking at different ways to generate multiple opportunities for competency,” he said. “We are continually working for a way to clearly represent student learning that really is equitable and does not disadvantage any particular group or place one group over another in terms of giving undue advantages.”
Sophomore Adam Sheena said that the lack of standardized grading policies within departments can lead to unfair advantages.
“Grading and homework policies should be consistent throughout departments. Students shouldn’t be getting an A in a class just because by chance they got a more forgiving teacher,” he said.
Junior Juliana Gomez Reynoso said that classes’ difficulty should not be dependent upon the teacher.
“Sometimes it can feel unfair because my friend has easier work or a grading system that puts less pressure on their test grades. Because of this, I constantly compare my grade to what it could be if my teacher had the same grading system as another teacher who teaches the subject and is more lenient,” she said.
To combat the lack of uniformity across the school, both the South Senate and the recently-created Grading for Equity group have been pushing for standardization and clarity of teachers’ policies.
English department head Brian Baron formed Grading for Equity in 2020. Comprised of almost 30 teachers, the group researches and advocates for a more standard and equitable grading system. Baron said that at meetings every Wednesday morning, he goes over the group’s objectives.
“One of our long-term goals is to get the school to agree on what grades communicate, and we want grades to communicate student learning as much as possible. Our goals for this year are to get better individually and to bring more people into the conversation,” he said.
Creating a universal understanding of the purpose and value of a letter grade has proven to be a difficult task, as the discussion has been ongoing for the last three school years. Baron said that although the group does not have the authority to implement a policy, its members share a common goal.
“We’re just a group of teachers and administrators who think that we need to have a uniform grading policy at school, and creating one on the basis of promoting fairness and equity seems like a logical way to go about doing that,” he said.
South Senate’s Academics Committee is working to make similar changes in the clarity and uniformity of grading. On Dec. 7, senators approved a policy requiring teachers to post their retake policies on the syllabus at the beginning of the year. If they make changes, teachers are required to add them to the original document. South’s administration has not yet approved the bill.
Sophomore senator Sarina Chand said that clarifying the current rules is the best place to start in establishing a schoolwide retake policy.
“What we’re trying to do is make sure that students are aware of what their retake policies are … and that teachers aren’t able to change their policies without students knowing,” she said.
Senior senator Lily Paltrowitz said that she hopes the new policy will address previous communication issues between students and teachers.
“It will be more transparent between teachers and students on what the retake policy is,” she said. “There will also be more trust between teachers and students when there’s a single policy that both people have to adhere to.”
Kraus said that a core value of a universal testing policy should be ensuring an accurate reflection of student learning.
“We should have a system of evaluating students that understands that learning is a process, it doesn’t always come at the same rate to all students and that learning is a process that is supposed to contain mistakes,” he said.
“Therefore, if we’re going to fairly assess students in a way that is authentic to what real learning is, it should be one in which it is safe to make mistakes along the way.”