Standards-Based Grading Stirs Controversy Within the Senior Student Body

In the 2016-2017 school year, a new grading system, known as Standards-Based Grading, was introduced to the English department, particularly in the senior AP Language course, as well as the Journalism electives. The main difference between this new system and the traditional gradebook is that in Standards-Based Grading, all skills are graded using a four-point rubric, and each skill category (Writing, Discussion, Reading, Professionalism) has its own rubric. The scores students receive are divvied up into different “standards” or categories: exceeding, meeting, approaching, and beginning.

Standards-Based Grading takes the focus away from the point and puts it on the skill itself,” Michelle Wilson, AP English Language and Composition teacher, explains. “Now, instead of asking for points, students are discussing their demonstration and mastery of skills.”

However, one aspect of Standards-Based Grading, the Decaying Average, is particularly controversial within the student body. The Decaying Average is a calculation that weights the most recent score as 65 percent of the entire grade for that particular skill, meaning recent scores are weighted more heavily than older scores. Some students appreciate the opportunity for later assignments to balance out the scores of earlier ones.

“I think the Decaying Average concept is cool because if you mess up during the first part of the semester (#senioritis), you can still improve and get a good grade in the class,” said senior Tanya Mahadwar.

Senior Masood Jan also agrees that the Decaying Average provides a great chance to score higher on later assignments and improve writing skills specifically.

On the other hand, because the Decaying Average ends up placing a hefty weight on the final — worth over 30 percent of a student’s grade in the class — other students find the Decaying Average to be overwhelmingly stressful.  

“It definitely gave many students, including myself, unneeded stress,” admitted senior Amanda Di. “There were many students who consistently scored well and tried extremely hard on many assignments during the year, only to have a bad day on the final timed writes and end with a grade in the class that didn’t reflect their efforts.”

One facet of the grading system that many students seemed to enjoy, however, was the system’s ability to clearly display which skills students needed to improve upon. Mahadwar praises this particular aspect as her favorite part of the grading system.

“Rather than be frustrated with writing essays in general,” senior Angela Huang added, “I can zero in on specific skills, such as connecting evidence to other examples, and that is more efficient than trying to just write a better essay overall.”

Because the system emphasizes the improvement in skills, students appreciate the focus on learning, rather than on grades — a divergence from the traditional points-based system offered by School Loop.  

“Instead of just being motivated by the thought of getting more points to raise my grade,” said senior Lisa Wu, “standards-based grading makes me think about specific actions/ways I can improve in the future.”

While Di points out that there are still some inefficiencies within the system, she agrees that the overall idea behind Standards-Based Grading is an important one that promotes an attitude and environment that focuses more on learning skills.

Regardless of the different opinions students had, a majority revealed that they would have still taken AP Language, even if they had known about the new grading system beforehand.

“I would have still taken the course knowing that it had the Standards-Based Grading system,” said Di, “but this information should definitely be given to students before they sign up for the class rather than after they’re already in it.”

Jan further added, “I would still take AP Language since I cannot jeopardize a worthwhile experience to improve my critical thinking skills when it comes to essays and discussions for college preparation.”

While students are open to experimenting with new grading systems, many students still prefer the traditional gradebook to the new system.

“I wouldn’t use the standards-based grading system just because the formatting is quite different to the already-accustomed users of School Loop,” senior Masood Jan said.

From a teacher’s perspective, however, the opinion is quite different. “I have always struggled morally with traditional grading,” said Wilson, “because it’s ambiguous and doesn’t always communicate what I believe a grade should:  the skill level of the student. “

Regardless, for its first year, the Standards-Based Grading system has garnered quite some success and a newfound appreciation for learning with the student body and English department.