Demand Middleton High to use a pass/fail grading system

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On August 28th, Middleton High School announced that it will be returning to letter grades “in order to provide accurate and timely feedback to students on their academic progress”. 

But during the coronavirus, everything has changed. As a junior, I am now worrying about college admissions, I am worried about my family income, about contracting the virus, and I haven’t seen my friends in months. My stress is through the roof, and everyone’s financial and emotional situations right now are vastly different. I have friends who are grieving the deaths of family members and friends with family members on the front lines. Although we may have prioritized our grades last year, this is no longer the case. 

Our school is not only no longer empathizing with students’ stress levels, but they are ignoring those who struggle to learn online. For many, in-person classes are the only way to comprehend the material and bond with their teachers. The straight-A students I knew for years sank to Cs last semester.  What does this mean? Our school is telling us that the only good student is one who can adapt to an online system. While the internet is a major part of our generation, learning styles are inherently different in every individual. It is dangerous to assume that GPAs would stay the same for all in an online learning environment. 

But why do GPAs matter anyway? You’re sending them to every single university you apply to, of course. So for the straight-A students with 4.0s, falling down to C letter grades during the coronavirus means they are suddenly seeing themselves with 2.0s. It is the bare minimum GPA, even for most technical colleges. Although the online system may only last one semester (or hopefully a quarter), these grades are permanent. The students who did not “adapt” to what MHS had set out for us lost their chances of getting into any good university. 

But the issue of letter grading goes far beyond merely being able to adapt to online schooling. The letter grading system is inherently discriminatory, and these inequalities worsen with online schooling. Through letter grading, we are assuming that students of lower incomes have all of the time, space, and resources to complete their schoolwork. Our school isn’t considering that some students do not have the room to work on their projects; that many have big, loud families at home with no chance to attend class - let alone focus on work. Many students are struggling with the added stressors of quarantining with abusive household members or battling mental illness after losing a major support system they had at school previously. Despite all of these struggles, MHS is still setting students to an impossibly high standard of achievement. 

Furthermore, teachers should be able to understand their students’ progress without a letter grade system. If my teachers only notice that I am struggling with the content 6 weeks into the semester, I will not receive “accurate” NOR “timely” feedback about my academic progress. Teachers at Middleton High should be able to monitor their students’ progress whether we use letter grades or a pass/fail system - in fact, they can. Last spring, I had all of my teachers spamming me to make sure that I was completing all of my work and understanding the curriculum. If I misunderstood a math assignment, a history assignment, or anything at all, I had timely, accurate feedback to help me along the way. 

Ultimately, traditional letter grades don’t make a significant difference in terms of providing student feedback. But letter grades are only optimized towards students who can learn online, students of higher incomes, and students who are lucky enough to have a safe environment at home right now. By bringing back letter grades, our school is harming its own students. On the other hand, a pass/fail system would alleviate the major stressors of COVID-19. While Middleton High School students are motivated and driven, the burden of financial hardship, death, and much more affects all of MHS. A “low stakes” semester will result in better outcomes for students. 

We demand Middleton High uses a pass/fail system. 

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