Making the grade

Shana Levine, Staff Artist

Shana Levine, Staff Artist

Hallie Hoffman, Staff Writer

The first trimester goes by quickly. Summer seems to skip straight to Halloween, which is soon followed by Thanksgiving break, which means fall trimester grades. But what if November did not come with a grade on our transcripts? The Princeton Day School faculty is currently discussing the possibility of a new grading system that would allow for more time before an official grade is released. The hope is for this system to give students time to adjust to the new school year and new courses, and to create a more cumulative system that takes stress away from a single bad grade.

“The goal is to try to cultivate in students a growth mindset, a sense of resilience and perseverance, and a sense of self-efficacy,” explained Head of Upper School Jason Robinson. While this idea is in its early stages, a more forgiving, long-term grading system would create more opportunities for students to do well, as well as more time for students to evaluate themselves and make changes in areas that need improvement. Whether a new system would mean two grades, released in January and June, or a single yearly grade, or something completely different, regular progress reports would still be released to students with comments and grades. These reports would be solely internal, however, and not recorded on an official transcript. This would allow students to judge their performance and make improvements before an official grade is released.

“In many ways, we might be communicating even more, just a different kind of communication, with less anxiety surrounding it,” added Mr. Robinson. “If you disconnected the progress report from the grade, it’s more likely, I think, that students will attend to and absorb the feedback in the way we intend.”

Upper School history teacher Sam Hunt recently came to PDS from the Dalton School in New York, which operates under a semester system. While students there receive grades both semesters, their official transcript grade is a cumulative year-long average, with more emphasis on the second half of the year.

“Generally speaking, students that would struggle at the beginning of the year had everything worked out by the end of the year, and their grade would reflect that,” said Mr. Hunt. “Knowing that the cumulative grade for the year is ultimately what went on your transcript, I think, did provide some students with a sense that the year-long course was meant to be looked at as a journey.”

He continued, “The arrangement only works if people are committed to the philosophy that underscores the grading system. So if students and their families continue to be obsessed with every test score and every grade at every moment, then whether you are given a year-long grade, or you are given two semester grades… it doesn’t really matter. There has to be kind of a buy-in from the community as a whole.”

Upper School English teacher Liz Cutler has structured her classes in a way that emphasizes self- evaluation. Instead of grading assignments throughout the year, Ms. Cutler gives students comments, and then has them fill in a self-critique sheet based on what they did well and what they need to improve on. At the end of trimesters students propose their own grades, and unless they are very different from what Ms. Cutler believes, those are their term grades.

“I think grades are very reductive … I think the less we can emphasize grades, the better,” said Ms. Cutler. “The question to me is, how do we help students to be the best learners possible? And how do we keep the focus on learning, rather than on resume-building and transcripts?”

While the new grading system is still just an idea, the discussion of how to best measure students as a whole, and not just by a few tests, could bring beneficial changes to the entire community. With a more holistic grading approach, Mr. Robinson hopes students will see their academic performance as “a marathon, not a sprint.”

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