When I first came to Friends Academy during my sophomore year, I was completely shocked by the lack of online grading systems. As a student in a public school district that used such systems, I had come to view online grading systems as a fundamental right of all students everywhere—a tool that everyone could and should be able to access. But what shocked me even more than the lack of such systems was the fact that students were not, as I would have thought, begging for such systems to be put into effect. At first, I tried to adopt the no online grade access policy into my beliefs, in order to better understand this point of view. However, after a year of following this system, I have realized that the potential for online grade books to help students is too great to be ignored. At Friends, online grade books are not at the forefront of many students’ minds, perhaps because the existence and benefits of such systems are relatively unknown to the student body. Once such a system is in place, however, it will be impossible to imagine life without it. Online grade books allow students the opportunity to manage their grades with more ease, thought, and understanding than the current system. As a result, responsibility on behalf of the students will also increase, an added benefit for teachers. Thus, teachers should be required to implement online grading systems for student access in order to facilitate students’ ease with the grading process.
Online grading, at the very least, clears up the exact breakdown of how students’ grades are calculated. In the current system, although teachers do hand out their grading policies on the first day of classes, there is an overall lack of clarity as to which areas students need to further improve upon, as students cannot easily view their scores in different areas of assessments, let alone calculate weighted percentages. Students in the current grading system are forced to talk with their teachers to find out their current grades. But although teachers may know a student’s overall grade, most cannot offhandedly provide a complete analysis of each area. For example, I have often found when I ask teachers about my grades that many are only able to tell me whether I have an overall “A” or “B” grade or that they have “noticed a drop in homework grades” or “noticed an increase in test grades.” But they are never able to describe the exact percentages in various areas. In online grade systems, students can easily view the weightages of different areas of assessment—tests, homework assignments, and participation scores—and understand how their respective scores in each type of assessment affect their overall grade. Ultimately, this enables students to understand exactly which aspects of their performance need improvement.
Such grading systems also hold teachers accountable for their work. Teachers, contrary to what we may believe, are in fact human and prone to making the occasional error while entering grades. With grade book accessibility for students, the number of teacher-related errors will be diminished, as students will have the opportunity to double check whether grades have been inputted correctly. Additionally, final grades will no longer be as subject to teachers’ whims, since the mathematical breakdown of grades will be displayed online and will not leave much room for the “fudging” of numbers. Students will no longer be able to make claims like “so-and-so teacher doesn’t like me and that’s why I have bad grades” or other, similar remarks.
Mark Alber, Honors Chemistry and AP Chemistry teacher, is one of a handful of FA instructors that have already implemented online gradebook systems in their classrooms for transparency purposes. He notes,“I came to FA from a school that had a school wide system where students and parents could easily access grades, assignments, and attendance, and I thought it worked very well. It’s natural that students want to know how they’re doing. An online grade book lets students see if they’re missing any assignments or if there are any mistakes with their grades. My goal is to make grading and grades as transparent and accurate as possible. I don’t want students to feel like the grades they receive in chemistry are arbitrary.” Overall, online grading systems will increase teacher accountability and accuracy.
While students are supposed to ask their teachers for their grades whenever they would like, realistically, this is not a feasible option. In addition to not wanting to nag and annoy their teachers with incessant requests, most students simply do not have the time to physically check their grades often. Checking grades through the current system requires students to either coordinate times with their teachers or hope that they are in their rooms during students’ frees—all to find out one grade. To find out all of one’s grades in the current system requires the process to be repeated anywhere from five to nine times, depending on how many courses the student is enrolled in. Grades, which are solely a quantitative measurement, should not be this difficult to acquire.
Despite the various advantages online grade books would provide teachers at FA, some instructors have asserted that their biggest concern about implementing the systems is that they will hinder student-teacher communication. Supposedly, online grade book access will reduce the number of students initiating one-on-one conversations. However, the only aspect of grades that such grade books convey is the breakdown of grades themselves. The most vital parts of student-teacher conversations, which involve teacher feedback, student input, discussion of personal goals, how to improve on assignments, why a certain score was received, or other qualitative observations, must still occur through a face-to-face student-teacher conversation, as online grade books do not have the capability to convey such information. With the introduction of online grade books, student-teacher conversations will actually improve in quality, as students can prepare analytical, quantitative information about their grades before conversations and focus the discussion more on qualitative aspects of performance that grade books do not convey. As student Jacob Hutt articulated, “Grade books create more dialogue between the teacher and student as the student has more information to discuss with the teacher.” Friends Academy values student-teacher conversations as a benefit of being a small school, but our emphasis is on having qualitative conversations directed towards improvement, not quantitative, grade-centered conversations.
The administration’s other major apprehension regarding online grade books is that they would play into the longstanding culture of achievement within the school: allegedly, online grade books would make everything about obtaining high end-results, which further increases student stress levels. Although a low-stress environment is something our school should strive towards, declaring that online grade books would increase student stress should not be an automatic assumption. For one, the anxiety of not always knowing grades and report card surprises can produce more stress for students than if they had known their grade all along and could have taken the necessary steps for improvement in time (http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/05/05/tracking-students-grades-minute-by-minute-help-or-hindrance/). As junior Brooke Juhel put it, “Online grade books are helpful because they give the student access to their grades at all times, which takes away from the anxiety of not knowing… If I don’t have an idea of how I am doing in a class, I won’t know if I need to improve on something or change study strategies.” In some cases, students might actually feel unnecessary stress thinking they are doing worse than they actually are. “I feel more stress not knowing my grades because I might have one bad assessment in mind that I think is bringing me down a lot more than it is,” said Juhel.
Additionally, students can experience more stress from receiving disappointing grades in front of their peers, particularly if they have a physical and emotional reaction to bad grades. One student at FA, who chose to remain anonymous, said that they dreaded having to receive such grades in front of peers.
“A couple of times last year, I got tests back from my teacher that I did unexpectedly worse on than I thought I had. I blushed a lot when I got them, and so everyone could immediately tell that I didn’t do well. The embarrassment of everyone knowing my grades, which I try to keep private, added to my stress… It might be helpful if we could get our grades online through grade books so people wouldn’t see my initial reactions to my grades,” said the student.
AP Chemistry teacher Alber’s student of two years Jason Wang expressed a similar sentiment as to the effect of online grade books among peers: “Other people don’t see your grades as much with the use of [online grade books] and this might reduce the culture of everyone trying see each other’s grades within the school.”
The second aspect of the argument against grade books, that they increase the culture of achievement by emphasizing the “numbers” rather than the learning process, also appears to be a moot point. In Juhel’s opinion, “[Gradebooks] would not play into the ‘culture of achievement’ because students already care about their grades. It is just easier to have [grades] online than it is to find a time when teachers are free to ask them what their grade is,” said Juhel. Students in the current system are already grade-minded in their approach to their coursework. Thus having online grade books only makes the process more convenient for students and teachers- gradebooks would not affect it for the worse.
Mark Alber also observed that the grade books do not appear to change his students’ fixation with grades within his chemistry classes. “I think most students use the online grade book in a reasonable fashion. Some students are obsessed with grades, but I don’t think having the grade book online changes that one way or another.” His student Jason Wang noted this and spoke in regards to his physics and chemistry classes: “I don’t think grade books would affect anything… Buechler and Alber have been using grade books and students have been fine.”
Essentially, FA students in Alber and other teachers’ classes have already demonstrated a healthy precedent for the potential use of school-wide grade books by indicating the ability for the student body to utilize such a resource in a very responsible fashion. Yes, there may be students that are more grade-oriented than most others, but online grade books will not affect this outcome—rather, they will improve the lives of the majority of the students who do handle such resources responsibly.
“I think online grade books will actually help temper [the culture of achievement] because students can see how exactly a specific assignment affects their overall grade… They ultimately don’t become obsessed with specific tests they feel are bringing their grade down and will take a more holistic approach to improving their grades and overall academic experience,” said FA junior Jacob Hutt.
Upperclassman Freyja Goldstein likewise upheld her belief in the ability for online grade books to reduce the culture of achievement, but for an entirely different reason. “I think that [sites like] mygradebook.com actually work to alleviate the culture of achievement because you [as a student] always know where you are. You are motivated to get yourself to where you want to be, but you’re also able to be realistic with your goals. And the student can have all this without having to nag the teacher about it,” Goldstein remarked. Students will no longer be tempted to pull “Hail Marys” or make other extravagant requests to their teachers for the sole purpose of obtaining good final grades because such systems take away student excuses for their work (KQED).
One significant distinction that should be considered when examining the potential use of online grade book systems at Friends Academy is the restriction of parent access to children’s grades. Although at many schools online grade book access is also available to parents, grade books that only allow access to students are available, such as through websites like mygradebook.com. This distinction is vital to making sure student stress is not escalated by the use of grade books. Parent access to grades would create a breed of “helicopter parents,” or those parents who constantly hover over their children’s grades, and result in more pressure on students and a restriction of their children’s independence. (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/09/24/education-online-grades-helicopter-parents/2862105/). The goal of grade books is to help the student thrive in their coursework by increasing the responsibility and active participation he or she can take- not for parents to assert complete control and micromanage their children’s grades. (http://www.cnn.com/2011/LIVING/05/31/digital.helicopter.parent/index.html?hpt=us_t3)
Online grade books at Friends Academy should begin gaining further focus amongst students and teachers alike. Their ability to aid student development of independence, responsibility, and reflection regarding their work, all of which are essential to character growth, is not to be ignored. Thus, all teachers should be required to use online grading systems across FA.