Henry Singleton ’19
One thing almost every first-year student has on their mind coming into Woodberry is the rigor of academics. Woodberry touts itself as a haven of academia where boys can be known, challenged, and loved. The most important word of that phrase is challenged, at least when it comes to academics. Academics at Woodberry are meant to be difficult, and that is not just to prepare students for the next level of education in top colleges and universities, but also to prepare them to deal with the stress and rigor of adult life, work, and responsibilities. With a new method of grading third formers in the first marking period going into effect this fall, the ability of Woodberry classes to push students further than they knew to be possible could quite be diminished.
To cut directly to the heart of the matter, third formers will not be receiving a letter grade on their first marking period reports. Instead, they will receive just comments from their teachers as old boys receive now, however without the letter grade attached. The grades will be known to the teachers, and will be counted as part of the trimester and year-end grade, but only if it will be beneficial to the student Mr. Hale, a freshman English, teacher spoke to me on the topic saying “Freshman will have to be held accountable, they cannot think it just doesn’t matter.” However, are not grades meant to be one of the main things keeping students accountable?
The first marking period of the third form year is perhaps one of the most important times in a Woodberry career. For students doing well in the classroom, a letter grade at the midterm is usually seen as an affirmation of their hard work, and leads to redoubled efforts to maintain that now-set standard of performance. On the other hand, for those students falling behind in class the grade at the first marking period is a wake-up call. The idea behind this new system is to reduce the importance students and parents put on grades, and direct their attention towards the teacher comments. However, that is exactly where I take issue with the lack of letter grades.
For a student performing poorly in class, seeing a low grade may stress them and lead to concentration on only their grade, but in my opinion that is exactly the effect a poor grade should have. A simple comment may tell the boy and his parents that he is falling behind in the class but is a hard worker. Nothing says “step it up” like seeing a D on a report card. The drive to improve and desire to succeed produced from the image of a bad grade will push students to work in the classroom. I believe out of the hard work driven by a letter grade will come a better relationship between teacher and student which will then allow for truly accurate and useful comments.
Knowing they will not see a real grade in the first marking period could possibly lull third formers into a false sense of complacency as they will think that the marking period does not matter. However, this time will indeed matter for their year long grade, and as many old boys have learned, a poor third form performance is a deep hole to dig out of. Knowing there will be a concrete grade waiting for them at the end of the first six weeks would instead make third formers realize, in the infamous words of Carl Spackler from Caddyshack that they are “Playing for keeps.” I believe that by not showing grades in the first marking period, the administration is putting new students in a precarious position with failure looming close by as they are now counting on a fourteen or fifteen year-old, perhaps in their first extended stay away from home, to take to heart the words of his teacher instead of the simple, clear truth of a letter grade.
The views expressed in this article do not, in any way, represent the views of the editorial board, our faculty adviser, Mr. Guldin, nor the opinion of The Oracle as a whole.