Change the Scarsdale High School grading policy

Change the Scarsdale High School grading policy

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Grant Schechtman started this petition to Scarsdale High School Administration

My name is Grant Schechtman and I am a senior at Scarsdale High School.

SHS currently plans to maintain a normal grading system for second semester. While grades can be important for many juniors and underclassmen hoping to improve their GPA's before applying to college and keeping students engaged in school can be beneficial to mental health, I simply do not believe that maintaining our current grading system is the right decision. While teachers have been instructed to not grade too harshly during this time, there is simply no way to hold teachers accountable to this standard. 

Our realities have changed dramatically during this time and I think our expectations should too. Many extenuating circumstances exist that prevent people from performing as well currently as they usually might in regular school. Many students do not have a space to themselves that is conducive to working and free of distractions, especially with everyone home at once all trying to do work. In Scarsdale it is common that both parents work and a nanny takes care of younger kids, but with both parents busy working and many nannies not currently working, many older siblings now have to assume responsibility for their younger siblings. Often people's internet crashes during synchronous Zoom classes because everyone in the house on the internet at once overwhelms the internet and it stops working, leading students to sometimes miss crucial information. People with pre-existing mental health struggles are especially having difficulties during this time and lack motivation to work. And even if a person lives in the most perfect household with space to study and perfect mental health, that person simply might not be able to learn as well online as they could in a classroom. And that should be expected. Although we are certainly making the best of our limited options of what we can do with distance learning, it should not be expected that it can fully simulate learning in a classroom. And without being able to see anyone else, many of the de-stressing aspects of school and just life in general have been taken away from students. Students are thereby left particularly unmotivated to do work while now having to completely manage our schedules in a way we never have had to before due to the loss of structure in our lives. (I am linking here an article written by a Columbia professor further expanding on this point:

Students are furthermore being overwhelmed by the amount of work expected to be completed. To provide a sense of how much work that is, here is all the work I am supposed to complete tonight:

- For calculus, I have to watch a notes video and do a homework. This is due at 11:59 PM. Then, I have to watch another notes video and do another homework, which is due tomorrow morning at 8 AM.

- For statistics I have a homework due tomorrow at 8 AM. I also have to correct two of my previous homeworks that I got partially wrong (which was not a requirement during regular school). In addition, we had a synchronous quiz over zoom today. 

- For English, the rough draft of my research paper is due on Friday (the final version of the paper being due a week later). 

- For Spanish literature, I have to do a reading and a homework (which usually takes me about an hour for reference since it sounds like significantly less work than my other classes). 

- I should also begin watching a documentary for Geology and working on my project for international politics, but will probably not end up having the time to do so given the amount of work I have in other subjects. 

It is easy to see how I could fall behind on all this work, especially given how many things are on my mind surrounding COVID, which could cause my gpa could suffer. Although I am a senior who is already committed to college, maintaining the current grading system could have a detrimental impact on students applying to college next year or even in two or three years. No student's future should be determined by how well they are able to cope during a global pandemic.

Recognizing that grades can still be important to many who are hoping to improve their gpa's before applying to college, there are many strategies that can be implemented. I will list a few below, and I am sure many more could be thought of.

- A no-detriment policy: if a student receives a lower grade in a course second semester than they did first semester, then only their first semester grade will be counted. If their second semester grade improves their average, however, it will be factored in.

- Allowing students to declare if they want individual courses to be pass/fail: this system will allow for students to decide if they want individual courses to become pass/fail for second semester and thereby have their first semester grade become their grade for the whole year. (This is the policy that most American colleges have decided to use.)

- Curve grades: this system would involve changing the letter grades that percentages equate to. A 93+, for example, could be an A+, an 87-92 an A, an 83-87 a B+, etc (the exact percentages are just examples). This system would encourage students to remain engaged in school while also recognizing that the circumstances are different and students should therefore be graded differently.

If I, a seventeen year old senior in high school, am able to come up with these three possible solutions, I have confidence that a board of highly educated individuals can do the same.

The implementation of any of these ideas would require lots of conversation between administration, students, teachers, and parents in order to address possible concerns. The first or second plans, for example, might require that attendance to Zoom classes and that the completion of the vast majority of assignments are still mandatory in order to receive a passing grade. Assignments, however, could be permitted to be turned in late within a certain amount of time, such as a week, without any penalty. Students will therefore still be held accountable to complete their work, but not punished for possibly not maintaining their usual standard of quality and/or having difficulties with completing assignments on time. There are more solutions to address the possible concerns involved with changing the grading policy than there are solutions to address the concerns that exist inherent in maintaining the current grading policy, but these solutions can only be made if the administration becomes open to conversation about current grading policy.

I understand that many high schools are refraining from changing their grading policies (although it is not entirely unprecedented as some high schools have indeed chosen to adapt their grading policies). But why should that stop Scarsdale from doing so? Scarsdale has consistently been a pioneer in education. We decided to get rid of APs to allow for more flexible curriculums in our AT classes. We invested money in the Learning Commons and iLab to better students’ experience at the school. So why should we be looking to follow the lead of other schools when it comes to grading during this time instead of being one of the first more prestigious schools to change our policy and lead other high schools to do the same?

If you agree with the points I have made, I urge you to sign this petition, share it with friends and family, and email SHS administration. Thank you.

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