Grade Inflation

Most high school students work tirelessly day and night to study for tests, write essays, and complete homework assignments in order to maintain good grades in their classes. But what exactly qualifies as a “good” grade, specifically at a prestigious independent school like Riverdale?

Mr. Richard Lapidus, the Director of Learning and an Upper School English teacher, explains that there are guidelines for teachers to follow when grading their students. “The English department will meet every once in awhile to make sure that we all have the same idea. If you say somebody’s a junior and they’ve written this paper, what would an A look like?” he explained. These general guidelines are used to make sure that teachers in a given department all have a similar idea of what to expect from students and how to judge the content of their work. These guidelines also serve to avoid holding students to vastly different standards between their English courses throughout their high school experience.

To further explain these guidelines, Mr. Lapidus expressed that “somebody might say it was a B+ and somebody else might say it’s a B. But it shouldn’t be a B for one teacher and a D for somebody else.” While the school does its best to standardize the grading system within each department, Mr. Lapidus feels that grading is not a perfect system, and that “it’s [fallacious] to pretend that grading papers is perfectly objective. But we want to be reasonable, and we don’t want kids to have wholly different experiences [with various teachers].”

While the grading scale itself is consistent throughout every year of high school, the standards to which teachers hold their students change as the students get older, Mr. Lapidus explained: “A ninth grade paper that earns an A is not going to be as sophisticated as an ILS paper that earns an A. In the same way that a math test is simply harder in Calc B than it is in ninth grade Geometry; there’s kind of a humanities equivalent to that.”

A method that Mr. Lapidus employs in his English classes is anonymous grading, where he can grade a student’s work purely for its content without having a prior opinion of the writer as a person or a student. He explained, “I make students hand things in to me and I have a whole system where I don’t know whose paper it is, and I find that’s a really valuable thing. It helps prevent me from what kids sometimes call ‘grade lock’... They know and I know that they’ve ‘earned it’ rather than it just basically being the same grade I always give them.” While Mr. Lapidus does not think this method should necessarily be mandated throughout Riverdale, he recommends that other teachers try anonymous grading occasionally in their classes.

Though doing well in school is always important, Riverdale continues to reinforce its philosophy that our education is primarily about the experience of learning, and less so a means of getting an A in every class.

Riverdale has shifted its curriculum in recent years to exclude AP classes, as well as to eliminate the honor roll and cum laude, which were systems in the past that honored students with an exceedingly high grade point average or academic record.

Mr. Lapidus explained, “We spent all this time saying to kids, ‘You should worry about what you’re learning and not worry about your grade,’… If you have things like honor roll and cum laude, ultimately what you’re saying is really, at the end of the day, it is the grade that’s the most important. And I think we’re trying to say ultimately at the end of the day, it’s learning that’s the most important.”

He explained that the school felt that APs had a similar effect on students’ learning experiences, saying, “We decided to get rid of the APs because we felt that the emphasis on breadth rather than depth was stunting the courses’ development. Our students were sort of racing to a finish line rather than doing the kind of learning that would stick with them.” Mr. Lapidus does not feel that Riverdale’s lack of AP courses has a negative effect on students when applying to college, saying, “We’ve noticed that kids take fewer and fewer AP tests, and our kids are getting into all the same colleges as they ever did.”

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