Live Grades are a Live Debate at Friends

Many in the community are eager to make the switch. Others have reservations.

Cheesy Dorito fingers were passing tarot cards around the circle of my 11th grade advisory. I heard Friends Upper School Head Steve McManus say goodbye, which meant the Collection Zoom gathering was over.

“I wish we could see our grades, Ms. Paula,” I overheard Max Palmer, a fellow junior and advisee, complain, adjusting his red baseball cap.

“I strongly agree!” I said.

Max explained that he never knows what his current grades are, and it is very stressful for him to have to ask teachers. Later, we talked further.

“If we get to know our grades, that would be very helpful, and it would help us be able to see what we need to change before the end of the quarter, and the end of the semester,” Max told me. “I think having an open grading book makes everything more transparent, and causes less issues.”

Throughout the school, students and teachers are debating over the grading system, and whether Friends should adopt a live grading system like they have at other schools. Opinions are divided. Some teachers don’t want students to focus on their grades, while some parents are arguing for why we should have live grades.  Anecdotally, a majority of students seem to be in favor of live grades.

But many also have concerns – especially that parents will be able to see their grades.

“If teachers were able to give you a note, or friendly reminder, that did not involve your parents, that would be very helpful,” says Max. “Because I think that when parents are involved, it often freaks them out – which leads to them freaking you out.”

Jennifer Robinson, Director of Academic Technology and Libraries at Friends, agrees. She says she thinks there should be a live grading system for students to access.

“I think that that kind of transparency could really help and support students’ learning,” she tells me, “I know there are some schools where students and parents have access, and I think that is probably where there’s a little bit of divide.”

Ms. Robinson also explains what some teachers are thinking about possibly of switching to live grades.

“I think that some teachers are concerned,” she says. “They don’t want it to be just about the grades. They want it to be about student learning, and want students to be motivated beyond just the numbers.  They want it to be about the process, not just the product.”

Parents’ reactions, too, are part of the consideration, Robinson says.

“I think some teachers are probably concerned about families being too involved, and they want students to take agency over their own learning,” she says. “I think they are concerned about those parents who might be hovering, or constantly harping on students, because the grade is something they value.”

Robinson says there is actually an option on the MyFriends learning management platform, for students to be able to see live grades. For now, though, it is only visible to teachers.

“I think for teachers to be able to get feedback [about all of this] would be really helpful,” she said.

Teachers and administrators have put their heads together, and thought of different ways to handle students’ and parents’ desire for updates on grades. One idea was to take a screenshot and send it out monthly, or at least mid-quarter.  If they are willing to do this, why not make the full switch?

New student Stephen Piron likes that idea. Stephen went to Loyola for two years, and transferred to Friends for his junior year. At Loyola, they have a live grading system.  I asked him his opinion on it, and if he misses having access to his grades.

At Loyola, Stephen says, “you can talk to your teachers, and you don’t have to wait a long time to get your papers back.  When you are behind in work, you know exactly what work you need to work on and what you can do to get ahead,” he says. “You don’t have to worry about emailing teachers all the time to know what your grades are.”

With many students, teachers, and parents complaining, the school is working hard to find a solution that works best for all.