Fixing the Post-Covid Grading System
With the end of the Fall Term rapidly approaching, the flaws in the current grading system have increasingly come under the spotlight. Although the difficulties required to facilitate a successful term are immense, and we can see that the School has put in tremendous effort into providing us with a smooth academic experience, the evaluation standards have seen little change despite the introduction of several novel variables into the grading equation. In the face of distress and obstacles raised by Covid-19 and conflicts around racial discrimination, the evaluation standards of past school years are simply outmoded, inapplicable to the hybrid discussions and tests commonplace in Lawrenceville’s academic curriculum.=
Lawrenceville faces what seems to be a catch-22. On one hand, the standards of work graded by teachers should be consistent in order to uphold academic integrity. Grading a student differently from another would be biased and unfair. Yet, the introduction of confounding variables such as quality of Internet access and the impact of myriad global changes on a student’s mental wellbeing means that actually applying completely equal treatment to students who receive a varying quality of learning experience becomes inherently problematic.
In particular, Harkness and participation, the defining characteristics of Lawrenceville’s classrooms, have had some very ambiguous expectations for grades. Unlike in previous years, interim evaluations like “FREQ” or “CONS’ provide little concrete feedback given that students clearly don’t all share the same classroom environment or access to the Harkness table. A remote student simply cannot be expected to always contribute in the same way due to many technical difficulties that accompany the virtual barrier, such as internet access, audio quality, and more. Students certainly could ask their teachers to help them out during class by keeping tabs on their comments in the chat or directing the occasional question to them, but there remains a significant disconnect nonetheless. The separation for those on Zoom, experience wise, feels like being a Twitch streamer: constantly living a few seconds in the past, speaking to an audience far, far away. Just as a streamer finds difficulty in processing all of the information coming from their chat, which appears, then is immediately replaced by others, people on Zoom find it very hard to hear, let alone process and build off of the comments from their in-person counterparts.
Hybrid students also face these challenges, especially when they Zoom remotely. Most speak out when they are in the classroom, but find it difficult to jump in when they are online. Under these circumstances, we must ensure that the current standards for judging a students’ ability to “engage with classmates” are fair, especially when that makes up around a fifth of their term grade. Knowing that the Harkness system is an integral part of the Lawrenceville experience, the faculty and administration should look into how we can do a better job of effectively facilitating hybrid-style conservations. First off, teachers should be more transparent about how they determine a student’s Harkness grade, with the use of rubrics, weekly or biweekly participation grades with feedback, and clear expectations from our teachers specifically tailored to students over Zoom.
More issues with giving out grades in the midst of mixed methods of learning lies in the validity of tests and in-class assignments. For instance, it seems rather inappropriate that remote learning only (RLO) students living in different time zones are expected to take the same in-class assessments during the late night or early morning that students in the Eastern Time Zone are taking at more reasonable hours. While it is true that some teachers have helped students in these situations by allowing them to take these assessments outside of class, even that raises more issues. Though we would like to give Lawrentians the benefit of the doubt, the ability to hide behind the virtual barrier and have little chances of getting caught will inevitably make academic dishonesty more enticing this term for RLO and hybrid students alike, which will only increase the grade inflation and inaccurately reflect students’ true performances in class. Issues like these further prove why the grading system during these uncertain times needs to change; the legitimacy of assessment scores is lower than ever.
Though we cannot do anything to change the grading system this fall, we can improve on its shortcomings for a better winter, which will start off virtual and likely progress as a hybrid system at best. A shift from the status quo, such as the implementation of timed online testing similar to the spring AP exams, clearer expectations for Zoom participation, and making out-of-class work a greater part of students’ grades, would all help improve the academic experience of RLO and hybrid students alike. Most importantly, we hope that students and teachers can collaborate to make a final decision by conducting surveys comparing experiences of the spring and fall of 2020, and hosting discussions to find ways to improve the grading system and classroom experience in general. At the end of the day, we are all in this together; as Dean Kosoff would say, let’s all do our best to find the best for all.