Clawing the buttons of a TI-89 to calculate a grade is an unnerving experience. This is especially the case for grade-conscious students who plug in percentages to evaluate whether they’re going to be on the cusp of an A- and who know that each quarter’s grade accounts for 40 percent of their final grade.
Weighting can be unbalanced, and quarter systems make it much easier for a bad assessment to leave lasting damage when done incorrectly. Consider a quarter where one bad test leaves your grade in ruins, and because it’s the only grade in the quarter, when it’s weighed at the end of the semester its impact is huge. Quarter systems wouldn’t be a problem if everything was weighted correctly, but unfortunately this is not the case. By contrast, semester systems make weighting have less of an impact.
“Quarter-based systems can be [inaccurate] representations of our grades in classes,” senior Mohan Avula said. “In [AP] Physics B, we have one or two tests first quarter and then three second quarter. So, this might skew our grade dramatically.”
Students falsely tend to associate their capabilities with a number that represents their standing in a class. Ultimately, quarter-grading systems can end up dampening a student’s desire to perform in that class.
“The semester system is weighted more evenly whereas with the quarter system, everyone tends to freak out every week for one quiz or a test,” Mohan said. “This adds to how much stressful life is when you’re piled on with assessments that have a negligible impact on your grade, and not given an opportunity to succeed more with larger tests.”
The goal of education is, ostensibly, to expand a student’s knowledge and capacity to further academic pursuits. The quarter-grading system does this forcibly, making students focus their attention on grades and ability to keep the percentages and points higher. Often, we associate the percentages we call our grades with our level of comprehension of a course’s material, when they aren’t actually an accurate reflection of actual understanding. Quarter-based grading systems unfortunately capitalize on these inaccuracies of our grading system by reinforcing a sense of self-doubt in students who slip up early on in the course.
“Having teachers input grades throughout the semester better charts how we learn and progress as the semester goes on,” Mohan said. “It takes the focus off the grades and makes the focus centered around learning.”
Some teachers prefer the quarter-based system for its convenience compounded and because they believe it has a seemingly negligible effect on student grades.
“It’s been looked at statistically to see if it makes any difference with grades and we haven’t found that it makes any difference,” physics teacher Karen Davis said. “Whether that makes a big difference or not, I think it’s a little bit easier for accounting to close each quarter.”
Meanwhile, regarding student progress in a course, Davis believes that each quarter’s result provides an independent evaluation of the students’ ability to improve in a class.
“If you have a C in quarter one and a B in quarter two, I think you see that progression,” Davis said. “The final has a heavier weight, but generally the final doesn’t change your grade. If you’re an A student, you get an A on the final.
Any grading system should reflect a student’s progression rather than a student’s limitations. While Davis disagrees with the impact that it has on student grades, quarter-based grading systems undoubtedly serve to keep a student grade-centric and point-centric.
The semester grading system is also a less arbitrary evaluation of how students are capable of performing in classes because of the defined cut-off in course material occurs as the semester ends. Because of the way grades are inputted, it shows natural student growth later in the semester.
Having grades roll as the semester goes on provides a fairer assessment of student progress in a class, and diminishes the possibility of weighting causing serious damage. Each grade input represents an important step in knowledge that students delve into and having this build over the course of a semester is, by far, the best representation of this.