Our thoughts on the new grading system

Nandita Kumar and Mark Williams

Volume 71, Issue 1

October 3, 2022

This year, LOHS math teacher Christopher Hubley has rolled out a new way of approaching the Calculus AB curriculum based on LOHS English teacher Jami Wray’s reflection-based grading system. In past years, Hubley would put test and quiz scores in the gradebook but he noticed one major problem among all of his Calculus students under this model. As he put it, “the focus wasn’t about actually learning math, it was about a grade.” 

To combat this mentality, Hubley took a page from Wray’s book and implemented a standard that prioritizes the growth of his students over the grades. After taking a test, students will receive information about which learning targets they missed and what improvements they can make. 

As former students, and guinea pigs,of Hubley’s math class and new system, we think it is a step in the right direction. Last year, we both had the opportunity to experience his first “ungraded” test. Each problem on the test corresponded to a set learning target. After the test, we submitted a reflection that focused on the learning targets we missed which helped us understand how we could master those targets in the future. We both really enjoyed this kind of test experience because it promoted personal growth over memorization. We were able to focus on the mistakes we made and how we could improve on them instead of dreading how the test would affect our overall grade. 

All students are familiar with the feeling of impending doom that comes with a test, and calculus is no different. Teachers return tests to anxious students with emotions running high as students brace themselves for the score on the front of their test that will no doubt affect their grade in some drastic way. Instead of checking for mistakes, students only consider what their grade will become, instead of attempting to understand their mistakes, and improve on them. This classroom encourages students to flip the script, and focus on the work, instead of the score. 

But there are some potential potholes in this system. Students who do want to be successful might not have a clear idea of what guidelines they should follow to achieve the grade they want. Rubric-based grading is more subjective than point based grading. Hubley is giving feedback on their math, but not as much information on their grade, which could make students anxious until the end of the semester. 

It is also important to recognize that there are multiple ways for teachers to holistically grade students without eliminating traditional grades. . For example, our science classes weigh homework and labs in addition to tests. This takes some pressure off of students when it comes time to take their tests and better reflects the effort they put into the class. Lastly, many teachers use class time to assess students through small open-note quizzes based upon previous lessons or homework. These quizzes give teachers an accurate representation of student understanding as well as motivate students to put in consistent effort throughout a unit.

Neither of us know how this grading system will work out, but nonetheless are excited to see Hubley listening to students’ concerns and putting them first.