Sophomore Cam Stachovich grading papers for Ms Emma. Grades have been historically low, since students have been struggling with their mental health. (Lex Lee)
Sophomore Cam Stachovich grading papers for Ms Emma. Grades have been historically low, since students have been struggling with their mental health.

Lex Lee

A for advocacy

Double-edged sword of grading

January 24, 2023

For students, the grades they receive can be a measure of success — idolized as a stepping stone for the future. Marks received in class provide a scale for knowledge on a subject, though it is less clear if it is a reflection of intelligence, as bias and motivation play into its role.

Do grades measure intelligence?

According to senior Sophia Earle, grades accurately showcase student academic achievement but aren’t a measure of intelligence. 

“Grades can be a good measure of academic performance, but they do not directly measure intelligence,” Earle said. “Grades often show my dedication to grow academically, (but) a grade only shows one part of my life — academics. Intelligence is not solely about academics. It is also about unique individual learning experiences.”

English teacher Andrew Carlson said test results can be disappointing for students, and don’t accurately show what a student can bring to the table. Carlson said students coming from middle school are often discouraged after a negative experience on a test. 

“I’ve had students who had a bad score on an MCA test or an AP test and when they come in, they think they’re dumb,” Carlson said. “(They don’t) realize that a test is a snapshot of one day, one moment in time.” 

Junior Hanna Wilsey said she feels Park’s grading system only reflects a student’s ability to excel in academic settings. 

“A grade should be a reflection of your intelligence, but our school is set up so that your grade is less of a reflection of what you know and more of a reflection of you can do school,” Wilsey said. 

According to social studies teacher Scott Miller, a change in traditional grading may be an effective way to measure student ability, but switching from conventional grading to a new method may affect how colleges see students and read their transcripts. 

“The danger about not having more of a traditional form of grade is: what does that do to students who are trying to go on to maybe a hard four-year college, and how would that be measured and compared to a student that went to a different high school?” Miller said. “That’s the only thing I would worry about.”

Many students will try and get as many points as they can to get an A in the class without actually absorbing any of the information or learning more about the topic, according to Carlson. He said part of the reason students are so hard on themselves is the unhealthy environment in schools. 

“Part of the problem with the environment that has been created (in education) is that there’s a lot of students that are so focused on the number of points that they’re getting that they’re less focused on what they’re learning,” Carlson said. “You cannot learn without failure.”

Impact of bias on grades

There are many factors that can impact grading, though Superintendent Astein Osei said he isn’t sure if disparities in grading are necessarily due to the grading system in place.

“Just because we may have spaces where we don’t see disparities, doesn’t necessarily mean that grading is consistent. From department to department there’s sometimes some slight variations between that, but I don’t necessarily know if it’s the grading itself,” Osei said. 

For some, racial bias may be a factor in grading sophomore Kiran Alwy said that she has seen racially motivated grading and treatment within Park.

“I’ve definitely watched students who are white or female be favored and get treated better and have better grades versus kids who are trying equally as hard,” Alwy said. 

Grading bias can also occur based on a teacher’s opinion of a student. Sophomore TJ Brayboy said a grade can be altered based on the teacher-student relationship.

“Teachers may have a bias depending on what students they like. Say in English you write an essay the teacher can relate to, I think they will be a little biased when grading,” Brayboy said.

Osei said that if criteria is given more straightforward, then it will build less inconsistency within grading. 

“In places where there are clearly defined rubrics and standards for what grades mean, I think we’ll see more consistency.”

How grading affects student motivation

According to a study done by REL Northwest, test scores can morph into a reflection of students’ attitude, motivation and focus, which are influenced by the grades they feel they are defined by – a positive feedback loop. However, this presents challenges when the grades do not accurately represent a student or their work.

Osei said that grading is authentic feedback that has the potential to be either effective or ineffective at helping students succeed, especially considering the reality that grades are often determined by one perspective and do not include other aspects of the learning experience.

“Having a robust system to provide students feedback on their work is really important to school success,” Osei said. “I am being very intentional about the word ‘feedback,’ because certainly, that is what grades are. However, I don’t think all grades are necessarily effective feedback. There are going to be disparities because you have different people using their own understanding and making a determination around the value of somebody else’s work.”

According to Turman, the grades she receives affect her motivation toward schoolwork.

“When I get a good grade, I am excited about what I am learning, and when I get a bad grade, I am more  disappointed in myself,” Turman said. “However, it does encourage me, because if I get a bad grade, I am motivated to study more and try to get a better one.”

Earle said, although grades are effective and motivating for getting work done by a deadline, they make students only focus on the letter they receive — not their own learning needs.

“Grades make school less about learning and more about memorizing facts,” Earle said. “Knowing I will get graded on course material helps me learn it faster, but puts stress on learning it in a course-set time frame. If grades were not a thing, I would be able to focus more on classroom discussions. I would be able to take my time to learn new things.”

According to Wilsey, grading can be overwhelming and present students with stress but is an important part of school and a standard that motivates students to achieve excellence.

“If school was not graded, it would definitely take the pressure off,” Wilsey said. “But, there is still that certain feeling of satisfaction when you work hard on something, get a good grade on it, and know that your work was worth something. Whereas, if school did not include grading, people would think it is pointless.”

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