Changing the Rules in the Middle of the Game

North Allegheny made its new grading policy optional after public backlash, but implementing these changes now does more harm than good.

Changing+the+way+tests+are+weighted+at+the+end+of+the+grading+period+only+creates+confusion.

photo by Jess Daninhirsch

Changing the way tests are weighted at the end of the grading period only creates confusion.

Kristen Kinzler, Co-Editor-in-Chief

When I heard about the petition circulating in an effort to end North Allegheny’s newly-implemented grading policy, I genuinely felt confused. The policy stated that 70% of a student’s grade would consist of summative points– from tests and quizzes– and 30% would be formative– projects and assignments. I didn’t understand why so many of my peers disliked this style of weighting because it benefited my grades in almost every single one of my classes.

Turns out, it came down to perspective. In Honors and AP courses, where grades typically consist almost entirely of test scores, the new system made it easier to get a higher grade. In Academic classes, however, where tests were not usually weighted as heavily, the policy was more likely to negatively impact their grades.

The petition gathered about three thousand signatures, and last Friday, the district announced that the grading policy would no longer be mandatory. Teachers could either choose to keep the 70/30 ratio, or they could base grades on total points.

I’m sure this decision was met with approval from many students. But for myself, and many students with schedules like mine, it just makes an already stressful school year more overwhelming.

The 70/30 policy placed less focus on testing in my classes, which was helpful considering the influx of cheating due to remote learning. If there is no way to ensure that all tests are fair and honest, it made sense that they should be weighted less.

It was also a relief for students who are inherently bad test-takers. If someone struggles with test anxiety or performance, it can be very difficult to succeed in an Honors and AP course. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t belong in that class. The pace of the course could be perfect for them, or they could simply enjoy the academic challenge. More emphasis on other aspects of the class– such as assignments and projects– allowed these kinds of students more flexibility in their course selection.

North Allegheny essentially told its students that this year was going to be a certain way and, just when the majority of students found their footing, completely changed the rules. 

Not to mention, they announced the change at the worst time imaginable– on the thirty-ninth day of school. Students who were recommended for a class have forty days to request a level change without it appearing on their transcript. This timing is unfair because students have made the decision to stay in their courses this year largely based on their current grades. If those grades are going to change because of the district’s policy, then students should have the opportunity to react accordingly without fearing that it will look bad on their transcript.

North Allegheny essentially told its students that this year was going to be a certain way and, just when the majority of students found their footing, completely changed the rules.”

Simply, the district should have made this decision earlier in the year or not at all.

The policy’s repeal also, once again, opens the door for disparities among same-level classes. One AP teacher may choose to continue with the ratio, and another may go with total points. In this case, a student’s grade is entirely dependent on what teacher they have. Previously, this was a common issue, but I was hopeful that a standardized grading policy would change that.

When North Allegheny informed teachers of its decision to make the grading policy optional, it estimated that about 12% of student letter grades would change if all teachers were to calculate grades on total points. Approximately half of these students would see a positive impact on their grade, and half of them would see a negative one.

Because this decision hurts as many kids as it helps, it seems pointless to implement. The fact that the district is doing so suggests it is folding under the pressure of public opinion. The petition to abolish the policy gained a lot of attention, and I understand how three thousand signatures from students and community members would seem compelling. But considering that over 52,000 people live in North Allegheny, this was far from the majority opinion.

Maybe I’m biased in my defense of the policy because of the positive impact it has had in my grades this year, but I obviously don’t wish my friends and peers in Academic classes any more stress, and they deserve for their school year to be fair, too. I’m upset that something that helped me academically hurt them.

For that reason, the biggest problem I saw with the standardized grading policy was that the district treated Academic and Honors classes the same when they were meant to be entirely different courses. Instead of repealing the whole system, there should be efforts to create a policy that recognizes those nuances.

This school year is difficult for everyone for a variety of reasons, and it’s only natural for students to worry about their grades and how they are calculated. The 70/30 policy may not be perfect, but neither is its abolishment. Repealing it will hurt as many students as it helps.

The school district should accept that it made its decision for the school year, and changing the policy a quarter of the way in only creates more stress and confusion. Unnecessary, unhelpful change is the last thing we need right now.