In Defense of Total Points

The new 70/30 grading policy made an already challenging year more stressful, and its revision was necessary.

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photo by Jess Daninhirsch

A pandemic is clearly an inopportune time for teachers to change how they weigh test grades.

Kara Mihm, Staff Writer

The year 2020 has been stressful enough.  Despite the drastic challenges of a pandemic and a divisive and disputed election, students still have to push through and continue to fulfill our academic obligations. 

When they arrived back to school in September, North Allegheny students and parents learned of a new grading system that would be put in place. The system based 70% of grades on summative points and 30% formative points. With the increase of stress that it caused, a little more than a month later, the system was rightfully challenged with a petition that now has almost 3,000 signatures.

After hearing our voices, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Melissa Friez announced on Friday, October 30th that the once-mandatory 70/30 grading system has been revised. The grading system is now up to each individual teachers to decide whether their students would benefit from calculating their grade with the total points or through the summative/formative system.

From a student’s perspective, the total points system is much more equitable. There are students who are poor test takers but still understand the material. In this case, weeks of doing homework and projects that show learning and comprehension of the material seem wasteful, as tests that fall into the “summative” category are weighed more heavily.

The policy also impacted students in terms of athletic recruiting and the college admissions process, as no other schools that I know of are using this system. This summative/formative ratio could turn a total point A into a B, easily causing students to not get into the school of their choice.

In a normal year, change would be beneficial and foster growth, but this year is extremely different. 2020 is simply not the time.”

With the majority of students only able to see their teachers in-person twice a week, fully understanding the material and having all questions answered becomes very difficult. When teachers base grades on the 70/30 plan, the pressure to do well on tests and heavily-weighted assignments increases since those points make up the bulk of students’ grades.

This increase in stress can correlate with a decrease in students’ mental health. Researchers hypothesize that previous academic gains will be reversed due to coronavirus. Many students find themselves panicking as they try to recall information learned pre-COVID-19 while keeping up with the rigor of their current classes.

According to recent studies, COVID-19 has had the biggest impact on high school and college students. Normalcy in their lives has been completely ripped away from them, and they struggle with the constant state of uncertainty.

In addition to COVID-19 taking a toll on students’ mental state, the new grading system has skyrocketed stress to an all-time high. 

Test anxiety has been brought to a whole new level, as the amount of pressure put on students to do well on tests is now overwhelming. With the added stress from a completely new hybrid learning system and the coronavirus pandemic, this school year has to be the worst time to introduce such a drastic policy change.

Although some teachers have found that the 70/30 system has benefited some of their students, this new arrangement should not have been implemented in the 2020-2021 school year, when change has already ripped this world apart.

As each teacher makes their decision to use total points or the 70/30 ratio by November 6th, I ask that they recognize the emotional implications that this pandemic has. 

In a normal year, change would be beneficial and foster growth, but this year is extremely different. 2020 is simply not the time.