Academic Program and Policies Committee focuses on the culture of grading


Eliana Mann

STUDY TIME. Upper School midterm exams occur from Dec. 12 to Dec. 15 with a makeup day on Dec. 16.

Grading is viewed differently by everyone involved in the students’ lives, from administration to teachers, parents, and colleges.
The hot subject of grading seems rather taboo; after asking four teachers for interviews about the grading environment, three were concerned about giving their perspectives and one never responded.
The system is always a controversial topic. What should grades represent? How should students feel when they get a bad grade?
These are questions before the Academic Program and Policies Committee (APPC).
The group was created last year by former US Principal Theresa Collins in an effort to discuss academic matters in the upper school with members of each department.
In short-term adjustments, “The conversation has been centered on when and how [teachers] report grades to students and their families, and how that intersects with the comments and parent conferences,” said the leader of APPC, Academic Dean Tom Anderson.
But the group has also been tackling a “larger discussion of assessment and how [the way] we structure our assessments encourages the type of learning that we want our students to experience,” Dir. of Engineering Kate Lockwood said. She serves on the committee, which is mostly comprised of faculty department heads.
Grading plays a considerable role in students’ lives. While grading may motivate some students to work hard, it also puts unnecessary stress on others.
“It makes you feel judged and that you didn’t try hard enough […] it makes you feel like you’re not good or smart enough,” sophomore Sydney Zimmerman said.
APPC has been working to better define the relationship between feedback, grades, conferences, communication, and comments.
“We’ve been working at understanding what the relationship is and maybe refining that or having that make more sense,” history teacher and member of APPC Andrea Moerer said.

I think that we all just want the students to know that we are actively engaged in trying to make the student experience as positive and beneficial as possible.

— Andrea Moerer

Grades should be based more on “effort and the student’s ability to present their work,” Zimmerman said.
APPC is discussing ways to give clear feedback about where students are and how they can improve their grades without resulting in undue stress or frustration.
“I think that we all just want the students to know that we are actively engaged in trying to make the student experience as positive and beneficial as possible,” Moerer said.
The modern-day letter grading system has roots tracing back to the 1700s. In fact, letter grading all started as a way to assess shoes produced in factories and determine whether or not they could be sold.
By putting themselves in the shoes of students, families and their peers, APPC hopes to walk away with conclusions that make the process useful.
One of the earliest changes that came out of the committee was the shift of narrative comments from January to October, right before parent-teacher conferences.
Grade reporting will also be earlier this winter, with semester grades released Dec. 22.