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The Quad

Grade Alignment: Does the Teacher Make the Grade?

Grade+Alignment%3A+Does+the+Teacher+Make+the+Grade%3F

Students taking the same course with different teachers should face a similar level of challenge and earn grades consistent with other sections. More specifically, sections of the same course should be relatively equal in the difficulty of tests, assigned workload, course content, and grading standards. This goal, commonly referred to as grade alignment, is a consistent challenge for educators around the world and at Sacred Heart, especially within required core classes. In the words of Ms. Virginia Boesen, Religion Department Head, “If a student is taking a core class, they’re not making a particular choice about a teacher, so there should be some level of alignment.”
Discussions about grade alignment are common around Sacred Heart. Kieran Armstrong ‘26 and Matthew Bowers ‘26 claim they have not only encountered misalignment in their own courses but heard about similar experiences from many of their peers. Bowers noted that he’s seen other student’s “Schoology course load and it’s been a lot more hectic, and a lot more material than [his] own class was requiring.” This view is common among students at Sacred Heart. On one hand, he “appreciates when teachers branch out” and play to their strengths in a topic rather than adhering to a limited curriculum. However, he has also faced instances of two classes in the same course where the “difference in difficulty is astronomical,” and he finds this to be unfair towards the students in both courses, as they receive unequal learning experiences.
These student concerns naturally lead to the question of what steps SHP educators and administrators are taking to achieve grade alignment. As affirmed by Mr. Jorge Reyes, Assistant Principal of Curriculum and Academics, grade alignment is a “high priority for the administration.” The administration provides grade distribution data across different sections to each department, and the department heads then “guide conversations” with level teams and individual teachers regarding the data. Given the varying priorities and natures of their disciplines, department heads have different policies when handling this issue. Mr. Jake Moffat, English Department Head, reported that the English department utilizes a variety of strategies based upon transparency, including providing access to other teachers’ Schoology pages within a course and encouraging teachers to participate in group grading sessions–called “grade norming”– to compare their own scoring systems. Similarly, Ms. Lindsay Phillips, History Department Head, described “meeting times set up to calibrate grades and grading scales across a level.” However, Boesen spoke on the difficulty of communicating about grade alignment and how “finding time for four [teachers] to have those substantive conversations is the biggest challenge… when [they] don’t have any common free periods.”
Grade alignment policy at the department level relies on the aforementioned data given by the administration, as it is the most accessible and efficient metric available. However, using this data can come with its own set of challenges, namely identifying the source of misalignment. Phillips noted how within this data there “always are… discrepancies among teachers,” but there are several explanations that can account for such discrepancies. For one, Moffat described the existence of a “de facto tracking” system which makes it more likely for students to have their schedules aligned with other students of similar performance, even in classes like English and Religion. For example, students who take honors level math classes are more likely to be in a religion class with other students who take honors level math classes. Consequently, grade metrics can be skewed by the different caliber of students among different periods. There are also cases where educators have different expectations of students to meet a certain letter grade; where one teacher might constitute an ‘A’ as meeting standards, another teacher may be looking for a student to exceed class expectations. While the administration and educators are working towards standardizing what a certain grade constitutes, it’s still an issue at Sacred Heart that undermines the effectiveness of using grade based data.
While we stress the importance of standardizing courses, grade alignment policies should still allow teachers to utilize their unique passions and talents within the classroom. Phillips spoke about how one of the “legacies of the way Sacred Heart has operated for a long time is that teachers… have a lot of autonomy in [their] classes,” which allows for engaging lectures and comprehensive lessons. Sacred Heart constantly stresses the importance of God calling us through our unique gifts and vocation, and it would be denying those values to force teachers to ignore their respective gifts. There are absolutely situations in which teachers can play to their strengths while simultaneously aligning with other courses; for instance, students in Ms. Williams’ Advanced Placement United States History course testify to her unique focus on policy and law—her area of study—while still offering the same quality of education in her course. Ultimately, the goal of alignment is not to create identical courses with no deviation from a restricted curriculum but rather to find a balance between utilizing the teacher’s expertise and maintaining a just standardization of difficulty and rigor.

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