As an institution that has striven to alleviate the pressure of academics from its students, Palo Alto High School has ignored one of its largest stress inducers — the current use of weighted grading systems by some teachers. By assigning greater weight to sections in a student’s grade, usually divided into tests, homework, participation or projects with the greatest emphasis on tests, students are placed in an exam-driven culture that values their performance on occasional tests and quizzes above their progression throughout the grading period.
The Campanile believes that more teachers should adopt a point-based grading system, rather than utilizing weighted sections in the gradebook. By placing greater emphasis on certain aspects of the course through weighted grading, such as the 80 percent weight given to exams and quizzes in Advanced Placement Calculus AB or 60 percent in Physics Honors, students are driven to perform well on the tests that essentially determine their grade in the class, rather than focusing on learning the material.
In a weighted grading system, points earned in certain categories are weighted so that they are worth more than points in others. Many teachers at Paly weight points of credit earned in tests and quizzes, making these points more influential over a student’s grade than points earned on homework assignments or projects. In contrast, courses that are graded on a total point basis ensure that each point earned by a student is equal in value to every other point of credit in the gradebook. In a point-based grading system, points earned on a test would be equal to ten points earned on a homework assignment; in a weighted system, those ten test points could be equal in value to fifteen homework points.
Many teachers utilize a weighted grading system because it allows them to more precisely control how much of students’ grades will be affected by different types of work. While it may be argued that exams are an important representation of a student’s understanding of the material, and therefore should be given more significance in calculating one’s grade in a class, weighting grades only leads to students suffering both academically and mentally. Because points earned on tests more greatly affect students’ grades than do points in other categories, students are indirectly encouraged to focus more on performing well on tests. This emphasis on testing well worsens not only Paly’s competitive atmosphere, but also individual students’ stress levels and, consequently, mental health.
Point-based grading, however, eliminates this emphasis on points earned on tests and quizzes. In equalizing all of the values of a student’s points, exam scores do not affect a student’s overall grade as significantly as they would in a weighted system, and are less detrimental to a student’s entire grade should the student perform poorly on a single test. In this case, a student can compensate the negative effect of their test score by earning higher scores in homework, projects or participation categories.
The Campanile urges Paly teachers and administration to seriously consider the benefits of switching to a point-based grading system. By enforcing more widespread implementation of these methods, Paly would be taking a step forward in alleviating student stress and eradicating the competitive culture of testing it has long strived to shed.