Latin’s Grading Report Card…A+?

Frani O’Toole


As students and as a community, we rely on different indicators to assess our performance—surveys, feedback, discussion. Grades. As the most traditional method of academic evaluation, grades play an important part in how students understand their record in a class. While these numerical/alphabetical evaluations may feel the most black and white, that is not necessarily the case—between each grade are many gradations, between each black and white are many shades of gray.

To some, Latin’s grading scale dismisses this spectrum—by not awarding A+s, a 93 is given the same recognition as a 99. Of 16 students asked, fifty-percent believe this particular grading policy is flawed. They argue that, since other independent schools like Francis Parker award A+s, Latin ought to as well.

As it turns out, the Academic Council—made up of department chairs, division heads, and curriculum leaders from the lower and middle schools—has evaluated the A+ issue before. Mr. Graf, who was a participant in the discussion, says an Upper School teacher approached the council with the issue two or three years ago; with a fairly large margin, however, the council decided against amending the grading scale. The first reason, he says, “had to do with the intensity around grading already. Students and parents can get very stressed out, sometimes in unhealthy ways, about grades; they [the council] worried that if we were to add A+s, we would enter into even more negotiation, conversation, argument, and conflict about grading.” Of the fifty-percent who said they were satisfied with the current grading scale, many cited this as their reasoning: Junior Lexi Bolandhemat says that “I think they [A+s] would put an unnecessary amount of stress on an already high achieving community. Latin is already very “a” centric and adding an A+ would just heighten this mindset.” Other students echoed this, adding that they were afraid that A+s would only exacerbate Latin’s hyper-competitive atmosphere.

This “intensity around grading,” is, certainly, directed related to transcripts and admissions: Mr Graf says that “there are all these extrinsic motivators [when it comes to emotions about grades], most of them in the college process.” Even though Latin doesn’t report GPA’s, it influences many people’s thoughts on the A+ issue. Some argue that an A+ on a transcript could counter-balance A-s on the unweighted grading scale; others contend that an A+ could direct an admissions officer’s attention to extra-exemplary work in a subject. To the fifty-percent who prefer no A+s, however, the college admissions argument is equally useful: sophomore Riley Nelson says that “not having A+s increases the value of normal As on transcripts.” Mr. Graf adds that Honors/AP bumps and “the reputation of our school as a demanding, challenging, rigorous program” renders the distinction inessential. He says that, for students hoping to display their ability in subjects through A+s, “ISPs, Capstone, or senior projects might—instead of chasing a number—be a truer and much better picture of that person’s interest.”

Ms. McGlinn, who used to teach at an independent school that offered A+s, says that the issue has nothing to do with college, and everything to do with rewarding a students performance: “it’s not about college, it’s about students who go well beyond what’s expected,” she says. Of the fifty-percent that responded in favor of the A+, most cited the “reward” aspect as an important influence. They say a student earning an average of, at most, seven points higher than a student with a 92.5, ought to be distinguished in some sort. Even so, Mr. Graf adds, the “whole notion of rewards and grades is a really tricky one. We want students to learn for the sake and joy of learning things and knowing things. We feel a school such as ours can’t move away from grades, but wherever we can make them less prominent and less is important is what we’re after.”

So is the problem less about the grading scale, and more about the grading? “This is the purest educator in me,” Mr. Graf says, “but the healthiest, best systems are grading systems are actually systems of feedback.” How do we give feedback on this issue, then? One critique might examine our hyper-competitive, “A” centric attitude toward grades. Another might address the right to have A+ work recognized in transcripts. One might suggest taking away A-s, to give balance on either side of the A. With this issue, feedback seems to be the only adequate approach—no single answer makes the grade.]]>