EDITORIAL: Urban’s grading system needs to change

Jacob Winick, Staff Writer

We all know the drill. On the Friday two weeks after term, Urban students log in to PCR a few minutes before 5 PM and refresh their browsers until the latest course report appears.

The stress of opening up course reports and frantically scrolling through them to catch a glimpse of the letter grades before sitting down to read the reports is unique to Urban. At most schools, students can track their grades throughout the term and know exactly which grade will be on their transcripts before they open them. But at Urban, grades are locked in a chamber of secrets of sorts — concealed in elusive grade books until they are finally revealed after students have the ability to change them. This system needs to change.

We understand where the idea of keeping grades out of the classroom comes from. Urban has always tried to make students care more about “the love of learning” than any score or grade, but like it or not, students care about their grades. Our finals stress stems from fear of colleges seeing our grades, not anxiety about gleaning the most from the last few weeks. Who would take a B with “strong conceptual understanding” over an A with nothing but fake annotations in book margins?

If Urban really did exist in an airtight bubble, it could revert to sharing letter grades only at the end of junior year, as it did before the 2011-12 school year. Perhaps this way, we could actually care more about our understanding than the final grade. Even though we sometimes feel removed, Urban exists in an educational system that relies heavily on grades to assess students’ abilities.

By keeping students in the dark about the grading process, Urban isn’t making classes less about scores, it’s just creating more anxiety for students who are already far too stressed. Instead of knowing how we stand in our classes so that we can focus our efforts on classes we are struggling in, we have to decipher rubrics and narratives, a process which is exacerbated by the discrepancies between how teachers grade. Some teachers grade far harder on interim reports and assignments than they do on the final course reports, while some teachers do the opposite. By trying to make us think more about our learning and less about our grades, Urban is actually making students wonder about their grades far more. This unpredictable system forces students into a guessing game about standards that is neither conducive to learning nor beneficial to their academic success.

To fix this problem, the Urban grading system needs to become more transparent. We understand that the idea of Urban teachers sharing their grade books with students seems completely “un-Urban,” but sticking with an old system just because it’s comfortable is just as “un-Urban”. Perhaps having grades before the final course report won’t cause the sky to fall. Let’s at least try it out. We don’t have to go all the way to grading every quiz and essay, but at least give us a letter grade on our interim reports, a proposition supported by 72 percent of students in an Urban Legend survey.