Modern grading method abolishes check-box mentality

This year, for juniors enrolled in IB History of the Americas, only seven assessments—four pass/fail Essential Knowledge (EK) quizzes and three essays—determine a student’s first semester grade.

“We’ve lowered the amount we expect you to know well, and we’re fine-tuning what we want you to be proficient at,” history teacher Teresa Yeager said. “We want you to really go in-depth and understand something at a totally different level, so we’re not just focused on check[ing] off [a] box.”

EK quizzes test students on Identifications (IDs), which include the who, what, when, where and significance for a person, idea or event in history. In order to pass, students have to get 100 percent of each ID correct. However, the quizzes can be retaken outside of class within a month of the first attempt.

Essays, on the other hand, are graded on a 15-point scale and cannot be retaken. To receive an ‘A’ for the semester, a student has to eventually pass all 4 EK quizzes and get a score of 12 on two out of the three essays.

“The normal, standard grading system was broken, and it wasn’t giving students very good information about what skills they already had and where they needed to improve,” history teacher Lydia Cuffman said. “[This grading system] is fairer because if at the end of the semester you can do it, you should get credit for that. If you didn’t know how to do it [at first], that’s okay because it’s my job to teach you how to do it.”

The overarching idea of this system is improvement. If someone gets a 7 out of 15 points on the first essay, but by the end of the semester receives a 13, the student shows that he or she has learned the skills needed to answer the essay prompt effectively. Vice versa, if some-one gets 12s on the first 2 essays, but does relatively worse on the last one, the student might not be eligible for an ‘A’ because he or she does not grow.

Some juniors and their parents are worried about whether the new grading policy is going to be effective in helping students learn and succeed.

“There are some students who are really upset. Part of it’s coming from fear of the unknown, fear of something totally different than what they’re used to. I think it also comes from [the fact that they]’re pretty used to being told what to do and how to do it at every moment,” Yeager said. “I’ve noticed that there are a few brave students who are asking questions for clarification, and I want more students to do that.”

The three IB teachers have already noticed major development in students’ understanding.

“The level of analysis and ability to connect concepts—I’m already seeing that it’s much stronger across the board,” Cuffman said. “We’re having conversations about ‘how does this historical concept connect to this one?’ Not ‘why did I get nine points and not ten?’”

While some find the grading system very stressful, others think it’s a much better policy than those in other classes.

“I don’t like the grading system. I don’t think that it’s fair that you have to get every single thing right to pass the test,” junior Rosey Morearty said. “There  should be some deadline for getting sections of the homework done because there’s so many people that save the entire thing for the last night and are completely panicking. I don’t want that for my friends.”

The issue that Morearty brings up is one that pervades school in general: procrastination.

“I can relate; I suffer from procrastination,” junior Jackie Pereda said. “For some it’s not incredibly easy to just be like, ‘OK, I’m going to do homework early’ one day because people get distracted easily and just don’t feel like doing homework right after school.”

Concerns aside, an obvious benefit to learning under this system is preparation for college, where mostly only assessments make up grades.

“It’s good that [we] don’t have forced homework. You’re able to decide what you need to do for yourself,” junior Ed van Bruggen said. “It will prepare you better for college because [your professors] are not going to tell you what you need to complete by when. It will make you rely on yourself more.”

This does not, however, mean that students have to go through it alone. Teachers emphasize that students should come talk to them when needing advice.

“At some point we have stopped holding your hand a little bit, [but] that doesn’t mean we’re not here to help. I’m in my room all the time and tell students ‘I’m here,’” Yeager said. “The students who’ve taken advantage of check- ing in are feeling a little more confident. Use your teachers as resources. Ask questions.”