Point: Easy As are a product of a flawed system

Laura Turner, Staff Writer

Everyone wants that easy A. Including, if not especially, me. It’s gotten to the point that while juggling sports, clubs, volunteering, work, family, and school, students tend to let school drop. But as my motivation and my stress levels bounce like a sine curve, I’ve noticed that my grades remain relatively constant. And countless times throughout my years at South I’ve witnessed students argue, charm, or just plain BS their way to an A. An equal number of times I’ve seen teachers hand out A s to students (including myself) who don’t understand enough to earn a grade that indicates mastery. Grade inflation is the product of an increase in expectations for students and a decrease in the amount of time we make for ourselves for school. In a survey of about 200 South students, 75.8% of students reported that they feel pressure to get good grades. We go to school in a time when getting a “below average” grade dramatically impacts our GPA in a way that reflects poorly on students and teachers and is plainly seen as not good enough. Not getting high grades all the time is simply not good enough. In fact, in the same survey, only 6.5% of students reported that they are not guaranteed a B- or higher in at least one of their classes. This means that 93.5% of students are not being challenged to put forth the effort that would ordinarily be required to earn an above average grade. 20% of students responded that they are guaranteed above average grades in all of their classes. Those grades should be sought after and granted to the students that go above and beyond “average” expectations. In theory, grade distribution should be a bell curve. The highest number of students would earn somewhere around a C, indicating an average level of understanding. On the ends of the curve would be the numbers of students receiving As and Fs, representing the minority of exceptional students and underachieving students. Students earning grades considered to be “above average” should be expected to do work that is above average. They should be expected to have a more in-depth understanding of a subject and enough personal motivation to get themselves to the A-level. Anybody who goes to South will recognize that this is not how the grading system works. There is a huge flaw here. Students are pressured to get good grades for themselves, their parents, their teachers, their schools, and their college applications. We are pressured to get these results, not necessarily to earn them. Grades should not be seen as the be all and end all measures of intelligence and indicators of success. They should be measures of our learning. Grades should be used as indicators of where to improve so as to earn mastery in a subject. In order to serve this purpose, the grading system needs to change. Juniors Lamia Abukhadra and Carson Backhus are students in the Open program. Open does grading differently than the more traditional Liberal Arts system. “You don’t really get points and letter grades on each assignment,” explained Abukhadra. “You get feedback.” “It’s really good because if you test badly, you can argue your grade in other ways,” explained Backhus. In Open, your letter grade is determined in a conference with your teacher at the end of the quarter. Grades are determined “depending on how much you improve and how much you try to improve,” said Abukhadra. The program has been very effective for Abukhadra’s learning. “I stopped worrying about my grades because I know based on my effort I’ll get the grade [I deserve].” She explained that if a teacher or if she wants her to be at a higher level, she has to “work extra hard” to get an A. Students aren’t learning anything when we do the minimum that is expected of us. What the Open program has clued into is a way to make grading a product of hard work and improvement tailored to the individual’s academic needs and academic goals. By focusing on doing the extra work required to learn, students ensure that their A really does mean mastery. The way the Open program evaluates students is more effective than traditional options because it allows students to evaluate their learning and improve their skills in the future. Ultimately our school needs to seek a balance between using grades as evaluations of successes and indicators of improvements that students need to make. We as students need to adjust the way we view our grades and the grading system needs to support that so that we can be rewarded for doing well and improving our skills.