Transparent Grading: Best Fantasy Or Worst Nightmare?
When walking through the Student Center, it is not uncommon to overhear students expressing anxiety as they ponder their standing in a class, perhaps after a difficult test or a challenging in-class essay. In moments like these, many Packer students wish for a transparent grading system—an online gradebook where one’s grade in a class is easily accessible and never a surprise come time for grade distribution. The benefits and pitfalls of transparent grading systems have been scrutinized by students and faculty alike as they consider how such a system might affect our Upper School.
During the 2015–16 school year, an online gradebook was proposed by Student Council representatives working with faculty and parents. Several teachers were against the idea, as they feared an unhealthy increase in competitiveness and a detrimental effect on mental health as a result. The effect on student-teacher relationships was also under consideration, as some teachers worried their students would no longer request meetings if they already knew their standing in a class. Nonetheless, a yearlong trial of the online gradebook began the next year with the cooperation of a few willing teachers. The system was met with mixed feedback, yet ended up being discontinued the next school year.
“There was a lot of pushback against it from teachers and parents,” said former Student Council Vice President Sacha Sloan (‘19), who worked on the project. “They felt that a gradebook would shift the culture around Packer and put a more significant focus on grades and results as a community, bringing us closer to being the type of school where everyone is worried about their GPA all the time.”
Three years later, transparent grading is available in only some classes taught by some teachers, and many students still wish for a way to access their grades in all classes at all times.
“If I know my grade isn’t very good at a certain time, I can push myself to work harder,” said Olivia Rosas (‘22) who argues that a transparent grading system would allow students to focus on the classes in which they feel they can improve the most.
“I think there needs to be transparent grading, especially in the Upper School where things become more high stakes and students have to begin thinking about college,” said Upper School Learning Specialist Farrah Khan, a faculty member in favor of the system. “I think that it is great for the students because when they are able to see where they are on that day and at that time in a class, they can adjust their plan moving forward.”
Ms. Khan also sees solutions to some of the concerns that have prevented the gradebook from fully materializing in the past. Many have suggested that the gradebook would induce more stress in the student body, but Ms. Khan disagrees. “Of course, there is always going to be stress around grades,” she said. “Transparent grading will help clarify teachers’ expectations for students so that they can strategize and plan.”
She also addresses the issue of student-teacher relations being threatened by an online grade book, saying, “I feel like seeing your grade on a screen does not explain the grade. You still have to meet with the teacher to see what may have gone wrong, and I do not think that online grading would at all take away from student-teacher relations because students are rarely ever meeting with teachers only to see their grades.”
While some teachers do employ a transparent grading system in their classes, there are also faculty members who are against such a system and feel it would not be beneficial to students or parents.
“To me, something that is really important is that you cannot put a number in a system like that is the way a student progresses through the year,” said Upper School English teacher Mr. Wang.“That means a lot to me, and if that is not counted in that grade then whatever the student or parent sees online is not accurate. Every student has specific, unique circumstances that shape who they are and what they’re able to do, that they and I have no control over.”
He adds that a student can calculate their own grade quantitatively using returned assignments and the syllabus of the course; however, what is more valuable is communication between the student and teacher from which the student learns how they can improve in a class.
There seems to be a balance around the prospect of an online grading system between the pushback it has received and the alternatives proposed to prevent its feared repercussions. Nonetheless, many students are willing to see another attempt made to unveil the opacity that shrouds Packer grading and witness firsthand how it would affect academic life as a student in the Upper School.