Proposed changes to grading system, unfair and damaging



Switching to only a summative category in the grade book would harm students rather than help them due to the increased stress and other harmful implications.

Katie Sigal

This semester, administration tested a new system of grading that entails only a summative category in the grade book. Summative assessments are generally high-stakes and include things like tests, quizzes and graded essays. The summative category is meant to evaluate a student’s understanding of the material. Without the formative category, students will be more focused on getting the grade on the test than actually comprehending the material.

The Design Thinking Cohort is Midtown’s chapter of Atlanta Public School’s new concept with the goal of developing a coalition of teachers who develop a solution to solve a school-specific problem. In this case, it is grade inflation. The results of this trial could lead to the implementation of this system in the fall. Though this would help Midtown’s struggle with grade inflation, the change would cause more harm than good to things like students’ mental health and overall view of grades.

This alteration of the grade book would simply load students with stress. Having a formative category in the grade book gives students something to fall back on, a safety net, which makes tests lower stakes. With just a summative category, tests are your grade in the class. In fact, UCLA reports that “between 40 and 60% of students have significant test anxiety that interferes with their performing up to their capability.” Students with test anxiety know the material but don’t perform well on exams because of their test-taking issues. This alone should be enough to stop administration’s implementation because it puts students with a condition they can’t help at a disadvantage.

An upside mentioned by Midtown administration is that the change will improve the classroom environment and encourage students to work harder. In reality, students who are self-motivated will work harder, but students who aren’t motivated will fall further through the cracks without the grade cushion.  

Additionally mentioned by administration, students with socioeconomic disadvantages tend to do worse with formative assessments because they don’t have time for homework and classwork  due to other responsibilities at home. With only summative assessments, students may not have to do as much homework, however, they will have to allocate time for studying, which will not solve the problem. Administration needs to find different solutions that allow students from less fortunate backgrounds more opportunities and aid that improves their grades, instead of changing the entire grading system.

Supporters of only summative assessments claim that students’ grades will more accurately reflect their knowledge of the course; however, this is not true, especially for those who have test anxiety. Having both formative and summative categories shapes the students learning for better comprehension. Additionally, it is important to note that grade inflation is a problem that needs to be addressed, however, the main concern of administration and teachers should be the students and their well-being, not grade inflation. 

Cheating is already a big problem that administrators at Midtown are trying to combat. More tests could also lead to more cheating, which makes switching to summative for the sake of grade inflation worthless, as cheating would inflate students’ grades past what they actually know. Making the switch to a solely summative grading system would be a step in the wrong direction due to the harmful implications it may have on both students’ integrity and mental health.