Adverse effects?As the first quarter ended this past November, students all across PHS experienced, for the first time, the ability to drop or retake an assessment in their math classes. This new system gives students who have a completed a certain percentage of their homework the chance to either get rid of their lowest test or quiz grade, or retake an assessment. This is seemingly perfect for those few students who have managed to get an A on four tests, but have also gotten one C, bringing their grade down to a B+. This hypothetical student, thanks to the new math system, can drop the test they got a C on, and end with an A. However, when taking everything into consideration, this policy can easily end up harming students more than it helps.
The new system has come at the cost of disadvantaging students who are not great test takers. Many students put a lot of effort into their math classes when it comes to classwork and homework, but simply tend to perform mediocrely on assessments. The current math policy punishes these students who, in the past, have been able to use their homework grade to compensate for bad test scores. The holistic grading system makes it so that students’ final grades are based entirely off of test scores, putting students who have trouble taking tests at an extreme disadvantage. Thus, all the hard work the students put into their classwork, homework, and participation result in no kind of grade booster whatsoever.
Meanwhile, the policy can be harmful to students who accel at test taking, as well. They, often times, feel like they don’t need to do the homework because their grade relies on their assessment grades. And as long as these students continue to perform well on exams, they have no need to drop or retake an assessment, thus having no motivation to do homework. This may seem semi-plausible for high school, but not completing homework for a course can develop a bad habit that could be retained later in life. It could also create a lack of preparation skills,, which could stay with a student through college.
As the current policy states that completing at least 85% of homework allows for an assessment to be dropped, many students use this threshold to their advantage by doing the smallest amount of homework possible. These students miss out on the advantages they get from completing their homework with regularity. In reality, doing 85% of homework is not enough to ensure that students are fully comprehending the material. When math homework was mandatory, it guaranteed that all students understood the important concepts that were being taught. It also helped students develop better preparation skills that are helpful in the future.
Especially with the district looking for ways to reduce stress across the PPS schools, getting rid of a homework grade is something that, if anything, increases stress. The 21st century has opened up a new era of anxiety regarding academics, extracurriculars, and most of all: college. Grading has become more strict, and everyone feels obligated to earn that perfect A. With math classes becoming more and more test/quiz oriented, student can only be expected to become more stressed. The homework grade used to provide fallback in case students weren’t performing well on assessments, but with the current policy students are bound to become more stressed.
While certain benefits come with this holistic grading system, these benefits are completely outweighed by the harms. Dropping an assessment does not help students learn their class material adequately, while issuing a homework grade does.
A welcome change
Like many aspects of modern society, education is constantly progressing and evolving. At PHS, this can be seen through the recent changes to the math department grading policy, which encourage greater independence and give students a chance to take charge of their own learning. The new policy does not directly factor homework into marking period grades, but allows an assessment to be completely dropped if at least 85 percent of homework in a quarter is completed, while retaking an assessment requires at least a 65 percent completion rate. This new policy provides the best learning experience to PHS students because it gives students independence and freedom of choice.
Encouraging independent learning is a major component of new philosophical changes in education. This type of pedagogy calls for the implementation of new policies placing stronger emphasis on students’ choice. In the case of the new math policy at PHS, this means that students are given the choice about whether to do homework on a given night. Students are thus able to manage their own learning by gauging their understanding of the material and determining if the extra practice is really needed or if it can be skipped. This change allows students to take charge of their own academic pursuits. Under the policy, students must be reflective of their own abilities, prompting them to self-identify what areas they need the most work on, along with what they already understand. Such skills are critical in developing independent students who are ready to tackle future challenges. With the choice of dropping or retaking an assessment, students have greater control over their own performance in class, as they can ensure that their grade is the most accurate reflection of themselves and is not negatively swayed by a singular bad test day. The responsibility and independence placed into students’ hands enable them to have a greater say in making their grade the most accurate representation of themselves, while also ingraining a greater sense of independence, preparing students for future endeavors.
Furthermore, offering relearning opportunities has become an important new aspect of education. One bad day does not define our lives. Likewise, one bad test, whether due to overwhelming homework or other extracurricular commitments, should not define our grade. The new policy heavily mitigates this issue. One abnormal, outlying assessment can be retaken or even dropped, thus making the grade a much better and more accurate representation of the student. Taking advantage of such an opportunity also requires relearning content that may not have been completely understood previously. This process of relearning is imperative in encouraging the best possible quality of learning among students. Ultimately, the new math grading policy is one substantial step forward toward a school more aligned with student needs.