Boosting Consistency Across Same-Level Courses

Alison Kuznitz ’15
EE Co-Editor-in-Chief

Taking Honors English, one is aware the workload will be different from that of friends in ACP English. Perhaps, the teacher will assign more reading homework and hold rigorous graded discussions. Evaluating fellow classmates within the honors level, yet with different teachers, that student would assume their academic experiences will be virtually comparable nevertheless.

Although it sounds like a rational expectation, this is far from the truth where a myriad of classes at Trumbull High School are concerned. The lack of consistency across teachers’ grading styles and content coverage becomes all too clear when it is time to take that important science test or view report cards on Infinite Campus.

“I’ve been in the same level class as someone else but we’re not both doing or even learning the same things because our teachers don’t want to teach the same way,” says senior Mary Balducci. “It makes our learning experience uneven, and sort of like one of us is missing out.”

In every course taught at THS, the curriculum is approved by the Board of Education. Teachers are expected to adhere to the same syllabus, thereby preparing their students for standardized testing and their future courses. If teachers veer from the curriculum, this could be detrimental during midterms and finals, which are uniform assessments spanning a respective academic level.

To counteract these discrepancies, teachers are encouraged to collaborate on a regular basis. Besides interacting at department meetings, advisory days provide teachers with an additional 1.5 hours of collaboration.

Yet, with teachers scattered throughout the building, the collaboration process can be seriously impeded. In reality, a biology teacher could have a math teacher as a classroom neighbor, forcing colleagues of the same subject to communicate via email rather than face-to-face.

“I know Mr. Guarino supports PLCs, professional learning communities,” says mathematics department chairperson Mrs. Basbagill. “That would also lead towards more teachers being on the same page in terms of assessments – not necessarily giving the same assessments because each teacher does need to have autonomy in their classrooms – but giving assessments that are more similar so we have more data to look at.”

Mrs. Basbagill admits that the math department is unable to account for different grading policies. However, she would like to see her teachers “more on the same page.”  A similar problem exists in the other subject areas at THS. One social studies teacher may allow revisions on essays, while another teacher may be a strict grader and not offer re-writes.

These variations in grading style quickly add up, resulting in one ACP class receiving markedly higher grades than the ACP class taught by a different instructor.

“I don’t think it’s fair that courses taught by different teachers are weighted the same on a transcript,” states Balducci. “One teacher may require much more work to be done, and may be a harder grader than another teacher teaching the exact same class. This could lead to students getting better grades with an easier teacher than others in the same level class.”

Students have inevitability experienced quirky grading methods as well. From allotting each assessment specific point values or breaking down an overall grade into percentage categories of homework, tests, and participation, it is difficult to assess the equivalency of the systems.

According to calculations from Mrs. Basbagill, a student’s grade will be nearly identical regardless of which grading strategy a teacher employs. Tenths of a number seem irrelevant at first glance, but those miniscule points could stand in the way of a student’s grade being bumped up into the next range or even an exemption from finals.

It is important to note this only applies to grades that are relatively consistent. If grades are more sporadic across homework and tests, the grading systems could differ by half a letter grade.

In spite of all these issues that arise from disparate academic environments, opting for totally uniform teaching styles may only worsen the situation. Many students claim they learned the most from a teacher who truly made them work for a certain grade, or taught a topic in an innovative and exciting way.

Although AP students, for instance, may be disgruntled about completing a project that is not required in lower-level classes, they could unknowingly be paving the way for self-discovery.

“Not everybody is the same personality,” says B-House guidance counselor Mrs. Skelton. “Not every personality that you deal with is your type of personality, but they could make you a better person in a better way…It’s not about cookie-cutter teaching. It’s really getting you to learn.”

This learning reaches far beyond acing a test. As a guidance counselor, Mrs. Skelton highlights the importance of flexibility and adapting to any obstacles students encounter at THS. Students are given the opportunity to mature and tackle similar situations they may experience in college.

“You can’t handpick everything in  life,” adds Mrs. Skelton. “Then, you don’t have a skillset. You don’t know what to do, and I want you to have coping skills for all those situations.”

THS administration and faculty have a long road ahead of them prior to implementing a standard of fairness and likeness across same level classes. The first step to this lengthy process is that teachers should strive to preserve their autonomy and creative teaching styles. Simultaneously, they must foster a higher degree of connectedness through all courses.

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