Bring on letter-based grading

Morgan Fry, Editor in Chief

I remember sitting in lunch study hall my sophomore year, where my attention was directed to a video presentation produced by the LTHS administration. The video announced some major changes to the grading system at LT that were going to take place over the next couple of school years. 

One of these changes included a letter-based grading system, where students would be assigned letter grades A-F, instead of the traditional percentages that had been utilized in the past. For a few weeks, that was the talk among students, teachers, and staff at LT. However, then the pandemic took over and put a pause to these plans. But now, we need to start talking about this change again, as the LT administration plans to implement the letter-based system for all classes in the future; although, a firm timeline has not yet been communicated. 

This school year, I got to experience this system in two of my classes that were early adopters of the letter-based grading: Dance Fitness and AP Psychology. After nearly two semesters in both of these classes, I have gained a more comprehensive understanding of the system and have been able to appreciate the benefits. 

Let me clarify one thing. In my opinion, letter-based grading is pretty much the same thing as what LT normally had, just with no percentage displayed on Infinite Campus. For example, when I take an AP Psychology test, my grade is still calculated in the same way that it would have been with a percentage-based system. If there are 20 questions and I answer 18 of them correctly, an A is put into Infinite Campus. The only difference is that there is no 90% attached to the grade entry. I can still see that I received an 18/20, but I take my A and move on with my life. 

In the past, some kids would see that they received a 90%, and then try to retake the test in order to get a 100%. Percentages have caused anxiety and a toxic competitiveness for years. I’ve seen it in my own Honors and AP courses. Letter-based grading removes this stress for students, so that they are no longer worrying about whether they have a 90% or a 95% in a class. This is far better for students’ overall mental health, as they can focus on demonstrating a strong understanding of a unit, rather than aiming for a specific percentage every time. 

A common concern about the letter-based grading system is that because the percentage is no longer attached to a student’s overall grade, then it would be difficult to determine if a student is on the border of dropping a letter grade. I’ll admit, before experiencing the system in my classes, I had this concern as well. The good news is that this was not as big of an issue as I previously foresaw. I believe the AP Psychology teachers and Dance Fitness instructors have done a solid job of determining the criteria for an overall A, B, C, D, and F.

 Immediately after a grade for an assessment was put in for these classes, my teacher always updated my overall grade as well. If there was any change to my overall grade, I then knew I needed to retake the assessment I just took, in order to get to the grade that I wanted. 

My advice for the administration and teachers would be to make sure that as this system is implemented, all teachers for a certain course are using the same criteria for the letter-based grade. The administration needs to ensure that they are providing teachers with clear guidelines and training for effective communication among their teams. If teachers cooperate with each other to create consistent grading standards and approach this system with an open mind, I see this change relieving the stress of students and creating a more positive learning environment for school years to come.