Southern Lehigh’s Grading System Must Change


Saskia Van't Hof

The current grading system can make classwork and tests unbalanced.

Saskia Van't Hof, Features Editor

As students reach the middle of the school year, their frustration over grades echoes through the halls. It’s not just Southern Lehigh – all across the country, teens’ anxiety over school is becoming an epidemic. A survey from October 2018 by the American Psychological Association finds that on average, teenagers during the school year report their stress levels to be higher than those of adults. Unsurprisingly, most of this anxiety derives not from social issues or bullying, but from academics.

Pressure for academic success is only worsened by Southern Lehigh’s enforcement of the percentage based weighted grading system in classes. This system groups points given for all assignments, tests, and homework into categories that are assigned a certain weight, or percentage of the total grade. The sum of all the categories makes up 100 percent.

For the past four years, teachers from all departments have been required to use weighted categories. This method of calculating grades, intended to establish consistency for teachers and students, has proven to be counterintuitive in the classroom.

To start off, the percentage based weighted grading system can be very confusing. Unlike point based systems, where every single task is assigned points that count toward the overall grade, percentage based grading relies heavily on weighted categories. For example, in one class tests could be worth 25 percent, while in another class tests could be worth over 70 percent.

“I think it’s confusing for students to understand exactly where their grade is coming from with the weighted categories,” English teacher Mrs. Lauren Tocci said. “Even though it’s something I review with my students, I still think they get frustrated by assignments that affect only one category rather than their overall grade.”

Another major criticism of weighted grading is how homework and classwork have almost no effect on the overall grade in some courses. If the homework category is worth only a small percentage, then completing all of the homework does not significantly affect a person’s overall grade. For example, if a student already starts the marking period at 100 percent in the homework category, then continuing to do well in homework does not improve the overall grade at all.

And homework is no easy task. According to a survey of K-12 teachers by the University of Phoenix, high school teachers assign a total of about 3.5 hours of homework each night. For students who already have sports, extracurriculars, familial obligations, and a social life, carving out hours every night to finish homework can become a significant stressor.

Yet, homework may amount to almost nothing in the gradebook. In many honors classes, for example, the weight for homework and classwork falls under 15 percent. In advanced world language classes like Chinese, French, and Spanish V, homework amounts to only five percent. Such little weighting of homework makes students question: “Why even bother?”

“I definitely think [the weighted grading] didn’t benefit the kids,” social studies teacher Mr. Troy Ruch said. “I feel there is a possibility of help, but I also feel that in a way it damages kids’ ability to truly feel that every assignment is worthwhile for them to do.”

On the flip side, the weighting system can also be very frustrating for its overwhelming majorities in a singular category. In many classes, categories like assessments carry significantly more weight than the others. This system creates an all-too-common scenario where one bad quiz or test could detrimentally affect the grade of the entire quarter, regardless of how many points the assessment is worth.

“It’s kinda hard because if you get one bad test grade then it tanks your whole grade. Trying to recover from it is almost impossible because the assessment category is so much more valuable than the homework category,” senior Alyssa Bolden said, “So it’s really disappointing if you do all your homework, but then still get a bad grade. It drops everything.”

The only benefit of enforcing the weighted categories is that it provides consistency. It gives teachers of all subjects the freedom to assign different assignments, while still having a similar format in the gradebook.

But is it worth it? Grading systems are not “one size fits all.” Different classes teach content in a variety of ways, and enforcing one style forces teachers to mend their curriculum around the format. In the end, sacrificing the best interest of students and teachers in an attempt to establish “uniformity,” only hurts the school more than it benefits it.

For many electives in the arts, separating projects into distinct categories can be challenging. Music, Art, Yearbook, and Newspaper courses, which are not taught like a traditional class, are more difficult to group into multiple categories. Applying weighted categories to classes who suffer from it only makes teachers’ jobs harder.

Revisiting different systems, such as point based grading, may be in the best interest of Southern Lehigh students. Unlike weighted categories, determining a student’s grade based on their total points offers a clear, objective way for students to be graded. Each assignment, from a five point homework grade to a 30 point project, counts toward a student’s final grade. It’s a system that almost everyone is used to, and provides a much more straightforward alternative to the system currently in place.

If nothing else, the weighted grading system needs to be revisited. Like any policy, it is worth asking whether or not it is truly beneficial for teachers and students. Just like not all students learn in the same way, not all classes can be graded the same way either. Revising the current grading system could not only make classes simpler, but relieve some of the stress put on high school students.