Yesterday evening, CPS established a new grading policy that opens up the opportunity of a pass option for fourth quarter grades if achievement in the most recent term is lower letter than that of the previous term, where a passing grade is not calculated into a total GPA. As this stands, the idea that your grade can only be raised is overridden; teachers have full discretion and authority what is given to their students, meaning grades can fall. Though at first glance the opportunity to have an entire term removed from a transcript seems desirable, delving further into the ramifications of this policy is disheartening at best. While it is evident that the intention may have been for the benefit of the student, in practice, it retrenches many of the worries and fears already circulating the minds of students, and does not benefit the very students it is trying to aid.
Students internationally are scrambling to navigate through the uncertainty and apprehend the enormity of the pandemic. At home, staying inside for days on end is difficult, but seeing images of an empty time square is incredibly surreal. Each of the burdens plaguing adults within these times hurt children as financial distress and familial tragedy affect all people, regardless of age. Moreover, many students may be encountering a greater level of confusion because they are unable to logicalize what’s happening. Fallen into a cycle of hope and fear, the idea of institutionalizing academic work can put a special burden on all parties involved, whether that be parents who have to facilitate google meet calls with their kindergarteners or high school juniors hastily studying for standardized test that they are not even sure when they will be able to take. Having the previous system, where work would only raise the percentage of your grade skirted through these issues in the best way possible; people unable or unwilling to do the work didn’t need to. Now that prospect seems to have faded away, considering teachers still want to give instruction as they would during in-person learning. With the previous system, aspects of a person’s self, like mental or physical health, where able to take proprietorship over academics if such a decision made sense. As mental health, a historically neglected topic but an all the more prevalent determinant of well-being, is more liable to fall without typical social interaction afforded by going to school, activities, or hanging out with peers, mandating performance to protect an already proven competency can only exaggerate these effects. In a time where such an issue is rightfully gaining light, it seems odd that this angle of inquiry was not translated into action.
Further, the new policy does not incorporate the diversity of situations of its people, or if it does, it does not do a good job of doing so. First, the adjustment places an effect on something predetermined, going against conventional pedagogical methods that encourage transparency of accountability. This is seen through the newfound weight given to third quarter, as students, like myself who was stressing over quarter performance, were conditioned to believe that third quarter grades did not matter, especially considering the events of the last month. Quarter grades represent progress, a guidepost that shows how you are doing and where you need to be. This is the reason parent teacher conferences occur after they are established. It is a time for strategizing to a better grade or maintaining work ethic. To make them finalized recounts this assumption while simultaneously disempowering those affected. If third quarter grades matter because they provide a threshold to when you can get a P, then a 4.0 student with a single bad test can get a B or C in the class if they are unable to complete new assignments. If education acts as trading to jettison into adulthood, do ridiculous circumstances really illustrate character? And if so, how does the new policy account for the fact that some people have much more difficult situations than others? Just saying passing is an option in some situations does not work, because for college transcripts to philosophical thoughts about merit, a P does not equal an A. Reducing the denominator for GPA may be great now as a freshman, but when classes become more rigorous in the future, having more weight on each class may put more stress on students already dealing with increasing selectivity of college admissions. This may incentivize students to confront less academically complex courses fearing low performance, potentially missing out on an AP, IB or honors course that could have opened a students eyes up to a new field of study or passion. One element of the post that I believe deserves examination is the caveat it makes with students with less digital access, as it says that these students will receive a passing grade. This reality is important, as it seems as if the digital divide has never been more known as it is disadvantageous, and this acknowledgement only strengthens it. As a code of thought, students of diverse experiences should never be limited in achievement, and further, as indirect penalties and variables are always bound to occur, they should be more considered in larger initiatives that can impact student’s futures, especially ones of the magnitude of a grade change. Now, if circumstances that students can not control mean that digital learning is not a possibility, they are unable to achieve a letter grade or boost their GPA. For juniors especially, such an amendment can mean the difference of competitiveness in a university, Why should this hypothetical student suffer when others may gain a better advantage while neglecting the work? How does this mitigate the institutional inequality festering throughout the city more than ever in these trying times?
Take the academic standing of high school freshmen who take seven classes for example. Here, first semester they received a 3.857142857142857 GPA, or 27/28 on a 4.0 scale. This demonstrates about 96% percent proficiency, which is just the way that I think about it that makes the most sense to me. They are hardworking students, but sometimes, fall short in assignments or assessments. Maybe they missed a week of school and had to teach the material to themselves through email or friends. Maybe they got lazy. Any way, they could have a third quarter transcript with three Bs and four As, and were, throughout the course of optional enrichment, been intending on building these grades up to hopefully achieve all As or maintain the same transcript. Some of there grades are close, but others are far, and they are contemplating how to go about the next few months. Crunching the numbers, they come to the realization that they could decide not to complete any additional assignments in each of their lesser performing classes, allowing them to jump from a B to a C, a score that would warrant them a passing grade, a grade that would not affect their GPA. In this scenario, the act of doing no work is categorically better than receiving the same result as their previous semester. This difference is 3.85 and 3.9. Though this gap may not seem significant to some, it represents a larger void of consideration present in the organization, one that fails to see through that the act of trying to get better is always better than not. Don’t get me wrong, my experience at CPS has been life-changing, and I couldn’t ask for a better high school to call my now long lost second home, but the educational system that empowers so many should not take away from its students. Especially in the midst of spectacularly unprecedented times.