After testing the idea with the freshman classes the last two years, Menlo is now implementing yearlong grades for the upper school as of this year. Photo by Pete Zivkov.
By Samantha Stevens
Along with the new commons this year, Menlo is implementing yearlong grades across all grade levels instead of semester grades. A pilot that was conducted on the previous two freshman classes (graduating classes of 2019 and 2020) proved to be successful, so Menlo decided to apply the system to all grades.
“Yearlong grades allow students to reduce the pressure around any individual assessment,” Dean of Academics John Schafer said. The amount of assessments or assignments that are accounted for in the gradebook will be doubled (by adding together semester one and two), which takes the pressure off of each individual assignment once the grade is weighed in June.
In addition, yearlong grades allow for teachers to weigh assignments later on in the year more heavily than the ones from earlier in the year. Previously, grades from the beginning of the semester to the end were weighed equally. The aim is to allow for students to improve their grades as they become more proficient in the class. Schafer feels that students who have trouble in the beginning of the year will succeed with yearlong grades. “It’s not what you didn’t know in September, it’s what you do know in April,” Schafer said.
From a college admissions standpoint, yearlong grades have no effect on how colleges view a prospective student. “[Colleges] just deal with however we give them the information [...] From the admissions perspective, there is no negative or positive impact on having yearlong grades,” college counselor Lisa Giarratano said.
Schafer believes that abstaining from giving semester grades to colleges helps out students that tend to struggle in the first part of the school year. For example, Menlo worries that if a student that had a C+ in a class for the first semester and then an B+ in the second semester, selective colleges would see the C+ in their transcript and, rather than considering the growth, would only focus on the bad grade. “What [Menlo] sees as growth and improvement, [college admissions] would see as ‘that’s a low grade,’” Schafer said.
Having yearlong grades is not uncommon. “Certainly most schools have semester long grades, but we’ve noticed a trend in independent school especially moving towards yearlong grades,” said Giarratano. According to Schafer, about 60 other high schools nationally have adopted yearlong grades. Menlo communicated with some of these other schools to gather perspectives on the pros/cons.
Lastly, for juniors (class of 2019), their transcripts will appear as having yearlong grades during freshman year (because of the pilot), semester grades in sophomore year, and then yearlong grades again for their junior and senior year. Schafer assures that Menlo will make colleges aware of Menlo’s transition into yea long grades, and will therefore explain why the grades from each grade level differ.
Menlo’s overall hope through implementing yearlong grades is to reduce stress and give an opportunity for slow starters to improve with their grades.