New Policy Eliminates Graded Homework & Latework

After the U.S. government declared a state of emergency because of COVID last March, schools across the country shut down. Because of this, new ways of learning had to be created, resulting in many schools changing the way they grade—including Poly. 

According to CNN, Mayor Bill DeBlasio declared in April of 2020 that all public schools in New York City would change their grading systems to pass/fail as a result of the pandemic. While Poly Prep didn’t change their system to pass/fail, they significantly redesigned their grading process, hoping to alleviate some of the stress of Poly students.

Michal Hershkovitz, the assistant head of school, explained that the grading system changed from a semester grade, each semester’s grades locked for the year, to a rolling grade, a fluent grade that doesn’t lock until the end of the school year. 

“We used to award semester grades…for instance if you earned a B- for the fall semester, that would be your final grade,” said Hershkovitz. “That B- would constitute 40-45 percent of your yearly grade…it locked you in.” 

This policy “locked” students in because even if they then went on to receive high grades for the rest of the year (straight A’s, for example), the transcripts sent to high schools or colleges would be tarnished by one poor semester. 

In addition to changing semester grades, there are other major grading changes at Poly. Homework, for example, is no longer graded, just assigned. 

Hershkovitz said she believes that providing feedback on homework is far more effective than grading it. “If you walked into Picasso’s studio while he was in the throes of creating a masterpiece, you might look at it and say, ‘God, that is awful,’ and might not actually celebrate the genius that the completed masterpiece would manifest,” she said. 

Instead of grading homework, grades at Poly will be determined by a summative unit assessment at the end of a unit. 

Changes like these were necessary in Poly and across the nation as the pandemic caused students grades to plummet. According to an Associated Press article, “School districts from coast to coast have reported the number of students failing classes has risen by as many as two or three times—with English language learners and disabled and disadvantaged students suffering the most.” 

History teacher Virginia Dillon supported Hershkovitz’s thoughts about the grading policy changes. “At first I was sort of unsure how they would play out…would [the changes] mean that my students never turn in work or they turn in work really late?” said Dillion. “I’ve been really impressed with how it allows the students to take on more responsibility for their work and understanding their grades.”

Dillon said she now feels that the changes give the students more autonomy and more self-power.

When asked if the history department did anything in specific to change their policies, Dillon said that the most important thing they did was making all unit assessments heavily rubric-focused. “We use a four-point grading scale for the rubrics, so instead of grading assessments out of 100, it’s like the equivalent of A-B-C-D. That’s consistent across the department.” 

In contrast, Maria DiCarlo, the head of math at Poly, says there haven’t been too many changes in her department. “We don’t really have many changes from last year because typically a lot of our grades are based on tests and quizzes,” DiCarlo said. “Probably the only thing that’s different is that we’re able to give more of them. I think the more assessments you get, it’s more beneficial to the students, so in the long run, I think these changes will benefit students more.” 

In addition, DiCarlo said that she thinks the rolling grading system will help the students out. “I think that change is also in the student’s favor because it allows everything to be spread out more evenly,” she said. 

Hershkovitz, however, doesn’t want students at Poly to put such a big emphasis on their grades, noting that the changes were actually made to take some of the focus away from grades. “What matters the most is how you grow and learn,” she said.