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During COVID-19, Should NYC Schools Reevaluate How They Evaluate Students?

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

CECILY MAURAN, HOST: Schools across the country are adapting their grading systems to this new virtual world. Chicago implemented a pass/fail system in their public schools. In Denver, students can choose whether they want to earn letter grades, or not. San Francisco is giving everyone an A. But New York City has not yet decided what their grading system will look like moving forward. Madhabi Chatterji is a professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College. I asked her what a grade is supposed to mean and if that should change given the current crisis.

MADHABI CHATTERJI: The goal of a grade is to give a final summary score that is sort of a judgment or a pronouncement on where the students stand. Given the challenges and disruptions caused by to everyone in their educational routines because of the current pandemic, certainly the criteria for grading needs to be considered thoughtfully and contextualized and made more compassionate.

MAURAN: Assuming that the current system, isn’t really based on something that is more compassionate and individually based, given the current grading structure for New York City schools, what are the disadvantages for changing it right now, especially considering it’s nearing the end of the semester?

CHATTERJI: I mean, I do not agree with giving A grades to everyone because lowering standards without, you know, in an arbitrary way, or assigning grades that are meaningless or in a loose fashion, does not do the students a favor. And really, it's rarely valued by students themselves or their families. Because in the end, they know deep down what the grade means. And it's just been given away. So I don't agree with that philosophy.

MAURAN: Madhabi, why do you think it is that New York City hasn't yet changed its grading policy? I know Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, have all made changes, given the current circumstances to their curriculum. Why do you think New York City hasn't done that?

CHATTERJI: Perhaps they're deliberating matters more carefully. I hope that is the cause. I hope the reason is because they are talking with teachers, they're talking with students they're talking with, you know, other stakeholders in their schools and in their school system, so that they can come up with the very best plan that works well in the short and long term.

MAURAN: What do you think it would mean for college admissions or admissions to competitive high schools, if this grading policy was changed?

CHATTERJI: Well, I think because it's such a major worldwide pandemic, and New York City has been the hardest hit by the pandemic. I think every institution of higher education or every high school, they are going to take the pandemic into consideration and make accommodations and adjust their policies. I don't think things will remain as is. I would be very surprised if that were the case.

MAURAN: What would your recommendations be to parents right now who have kept children who are struggling with remote learning or, or what would your recommendations be to children themselves, about how to get through this, about this tough time?

CHATTERJI: Believe in yourself, and be very, very patient. It's often the technology that is frustrating. It's a platform that helps us learn in some ways, but it does not help us learning in other ways. So one has to be patient with oneself and take it for what it is.

MAURAN: Madhabi Chatterji, Professor of Measurement, Evaluation, and Education at Teachers College of Columbia University. Thank you so much for joining us today.

CHATTERJI: Thank you for having me.

Correction April 27, 2020: In this report, we incorrectly refer to Teachers College as the Teachers College


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