Evaluating the New Grading System in the Middle School: Why Students Should Receive Letter Grades

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In this new system, instead of giving letter grades, teachers evaluate students with feedback in different categories such as “proficient,” “excelling,” and “needs additional support.” Staff Photo: Elisabeth Westermann.

Penelope Stinson, Staff Writer

Editor’s note: Starting this school year, Menlo Middle School students will only receive letter grades in their trimester report cards. All other assessments, such as tests and writing assignments, will be evaluated in different categories such as “proficient,” “excelling,” and “needs additional support.”

Every Menlo student knows what it’s like to get back a grade. The anticipation, the dreaded pass of paper from teacher to student and the hasty flip to see the grade. 

But right now in the Menlo Middle School, the administration has decided to initiate a new grading system. In this new system, instead of giving letter grades on individual assignments, teachers evaluate students with feedback in different categories such as “proficient,” “excelling,” and “needs additional support.” However, students will still receive letter grades at the end of each trimester. According to The New York Times, more and more schools have switched to a system that, they believe, promotes learning over grades. This “mastery-based learning” program has been developed in over 40 schools in New York City and recent laws in states such as Vermont and Maine are requiring schools to adopt the new system.

Of course, in a perfect world, all students would value learning over their letter grades. But, there are too many logistical problems with simply removing grades and replacing them with different levels or feedback.

A primary problem with simply removing grades is that students have had difficulties with the ambiguity of this new grading system. Because of how the new grading system works, middle school students only receive letter grades in their trimester report cards. This means that students don’t have a good sense of their letter grade until they receive their report card. Charlie Hammond, a Menlo 8th grader, is not a huge fan of the new grading system. “It’s hard for me to know how I’m really doing because with a ‘proficient’ you could be at an 80 or you could be at a 91,” Hammond said.

Another complication for students like Paige Miller, a Menlo 8th grader, is motivation. For her, knowing that work will get graded encourages her to put in her best effort. She doesn’t like the new grading system because she believes getting an “A” motivates her more than getting an “excelling.” By taking away the motivation for students to succeed, the program actually hurts the learning of students. 

Additionally, in this new grading system, if work is turned in late, it doesn’t affect the feedback it receives. This means that students can turn in work late and not have it affect their semester grade. The lateness of the work will affect the comments in their report card, or a specific category in time management, but the letter grade itself won’t be affected by the late work. This tarnishes the original goal in the new grading system of promoting the learning over the grade. Students become less motivated to complete their work, work that will further their learning.

The final difficulty with this new grading system being implemented in the Menlo  Middle School is the effect it will have on Menlo Upper School. Students who transition from the middle school will have to rapidly switch from not receiving grades on specific assignments in middle school to suddenly receiving them in high school. With the large number of graded tests, projects and assignments that freshmen have in even the first month of school, this could cause confusion for former Menlo middle schoolers. With continuous worry that the Menlo Middle School isn’t doing enough to prepare its students for the Menlo Upper School, this new grading system could further set back previous middle schoolers, creating worry for their both them and their parents. 

This new grading system has understandably caused tension for many students in the middle school. Out of those interviewed, the middle schoolers just want things to go back to the way they were.

Last Updated Jan. 29, 2020.