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The New Grading System: Yet Another Change at HKIS



James Ellis

January 22, 2024


After three years of piloting standards-based grading in select courses, HKIS fully transitioned to the new grading system this school year. The new system brought a number of changes. The difference between formatives and summatives was narrowed, reporting categories and measurement topics were introduced, and reassessment guidelines were modified. Most notably, letter grades were replaced with a more condensed academic scale—Exhibiting Depth to Emerging.


I personally found the new grading process to be beneficial. For one, the aligned formative, which was intended to allow for the collection of as much evidence as possible, has greatly reduced my stress. Since some formatives now contribute to students’ grades, their final grade does not depend entirely on a few summatives scattered throughout the semester. There are more opportunities to demonstrate proficiency, which is better for student stress. 


Additionally, reporting categories make learning much clearer. Within courses, different skills are assessed, and it is more helpful for student learning if students can identify which skills need the most improvement and focus on those. Comparing assessments that tested different skills does not make sense and actually makes it difficult for students to know which areas need the most attention.


As for moving away from letter grades, I was somewhat skeptical at first. As the semester progressed, though, I realized that this again was better for my mental health. Letter grades often foster competition and anxiety. The new grades do not seem to evoke such strong emotions. This is likely because they reframe our understanding of what constitutes a “good grade.” Before, many students would say a B+ was bad. With the new grading system, a B+ is an “Exhibiting.” It does not sound as bad and, in fact, emphasizes that the student is meeting expectations and has mastered a skill. The new terminology, therefore, shifts students’ mindsets from how they can get the highest grade possible to how they can progress in a specific skill. I would go as far as to say that it forces students to compare themselves to themselves instead of to others.


To hear other students’ perspectives, I completed several quick interviews. One freshman told me that the new grading system was “very similar to middle school” and that it had been “easy to adjust to.” With this being said, she also expressed concern that the student body did not understand the grading system well enough. A junior I talked to felt as though the new grading system “bandaged over a problem that had not existed beforehand,” lamenting that it was “more confusing for both parents and students.” Upperclassmen who take AP Calculus have also pointed out to me a controversy surrounding aligned formatives. Apparently, aligned formatives are not graded before the summatives, which defeats the whole purpose of the distinction. Other upperclassmen have been frustrated about the lack of consistency with the weight of aligned formatives and reassessment policies across classes.


Either way, we must give our administrators and teachers some grace as they navigate the new grading system. Although students have gripes with certain features, many also recognize the positives that the transition has brought about for us. The change was always going to be polarizing, but if any student body is capable of adapting to it, it is the HKIS student body.

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