Opinion: New pilots inflate grades

Aiden Lu, Staff Writer

Central is currently piloting several new grading systems. One is reworking grades to a zero-to-four or zero-to-five scale, and another is setting the floor for grades at 50%. Teachers can opt into one or both of these systems.

The purposes for these new grading systems are said to be objectivity in describing a student’s abilities and flexibility for the teachers. However, both of these systems, save for one specific circumstance, are set up for failure.

In highly subjective or individualistic classes, including the arts and PE, it’s difficult to grade students fairly. The nature of those classes inevitably produces results that are up to interpretation, because there is no objective measurement. A scale sets much more specific standards for students.

Beyond this case, the new grading systems fall flat.

Raising the floor for grades to 50% takes objectivity, throws it into a paper shredder and dumps the remains into Lake Michigan. If a student in Precalculus writes, “A triangle has three sides,” over and over across their entire test, they will “earn” a 50%. If a student in 20th Century Literature prints a picture of the Mongols and turns it in as an essay, they will “earn” a 50%. To be fair, many teachers won’t allow this kind of effortless work to be submitted, but some students, as always, will find the new minimum and do no more.

The system rewards incompetence and deincentivizes learning for students. Students who put in no effort get heavily rewarded, comparatively devaluing the work of their more studious counterparts. A student who did 50% of their work before is now encouraged to do little to none for the exact same grade.

Meanwhile, a zero-to-four grading scale system removes degrees of specificity from the grading process. While useful in highly subjective classes, it limits teachers in classes with quantitative grades; in other words, most math, science, and social studies classes. Instead of having the necessary flexibility and accuracy to truly reflect a student’s ability for each skill or topic being tested, a teacher must reduce a wide range of skill levels down to one of five or six values, inherently making the grades that reflect a student’s level of knowledge much more imprecise. 

One remedy would be to allow teachers more freedom to add half points, quarter points and other intermediate standards into the system, but that would defeat the purpose of having the scale in the first place.

Fortunately, many teachers are implementing the scale in a way that benefits students. For example, any grade between 85% and 100% is assigned a four, any grade between 70% and 85% is assigned a three. A four gives the student 100%, a three gives the student 85% and so on. This results in a system, similar to the 50% floor, that unilaterally raises grades, while also raising questions as to the objectivity and accuracy of the grades. It seems contradictory for objectivity to be a goal when grades are inflated, but as already established, objectivity is entirely out the window.

I am sure students would love to receive free boosts to their grades, and there surely are teachers who would prefer to implement one or more of these systems for one reason or another. However, the systems are falling flat and being touted as something they’re not. If they continue to exist, no teacher should be forced to adopt either of them into their classrooms.