Why Prep Fall Should be Pass-Fail

The first marking period of the year has come to an end, and with its conclusion comes a myriad of feelings. Hotchkiss students charged head-first into the year, and their ‘warm-up’ period is officially over. While many students have been through this period many times over, it is a brand new experience for the Prep class and other new students. They are adjusting to a diverse environment far away from home. Some are in a foreign land for the first prolonged period of their lives, experiencing a new educational system and new expectations. It is certainly not an easy social transition, and the stress produced by grades do not make settling in any easier. That is why the school should make the first marking period pass-fail for the Prep class.
When coming into a new environment, grades and performance steal our attention away from clubs and friends. Many parents tell their children that grades are what matter. Yet they are also not the only reason we come to Hotchkiss – at least, one would hope. No, Hotchkiss is also about developing you as a person. From floor feeds, school dances, and the trials of living away from home, you are tasked with becoming more independent, more vocal, and more empathetic. Yet so often we chase the grades and miss what else is whizzing past.
We recognize the necessity of grades in this environment and even some of their benefits. They serve as an indicator of how our teachers feel we understand the material and how much effort we are putting into our studies. They are also necessary for the dreaded C-word: college. After all, Penn and WashU would simply love seeing a “good job!” on a student’s transcript. However, in the transition time of the first marking period for new students, they should be secondary to cultivating a love of learning and settling in to the new environment. While students should be excited to meet new people, read about Eastern philosophers, or delve into discovering their passions, instead they do what they think will earn them a good grade. They don’t challenge themselves, don’t take risks, don’t learn how to fail and come out the other end.
You will fail. Somewhere along the line, something will go wrong – it may not even be your fault – and you will have to figure out how to handle it. We need a period of time where that is not only allowed but encouraged. This is especially important for new students, who might get one of the worst grades in their time as a student and not know how to react.
There is precedent for such a system. Lawrenceville and Exeter both have pass-fail fall semesters for their freshman classes, and those schools and their matriculation are similar to Hotchkiss. It is not as if students are not evaluated during this pass-fail period – no student wants to think they are doing well in a class before getting a C for their midterm grade. If anything, teachers can better target and support students whom they think may be challenged later in the year instead of feeling obligated to bump their grade a point or two. So while a student may be told how well the teacher thinks they are doing in that class so they can build from there, their marking period grade will have no effect on the rest of the year.
Too often Hotchkiss students put on blinders, stressing about grades and tests. There is, to some degree, a culture of complaining about how hard things are, how much work we have, or how little sleep we got. And many of us get an unrealistic expection of success – are you kidding me, an A- is a good grade! This is by no means a panacea; we would be talking about it if there was one. But the least we can do is make the transitional time of coming to Hotchkiss that less stressful.
We learn the most when we are given a long leash and told to figure it out ourselves. That means ditching the five-paragraph essay and writing informally or going to a teacher’s office hours not because we want those sweet, sweet sympathy points but because we honestly don’t understand parametric equations and need their help. When we are vulnerable, we are most open to change and new ideas. And we owe our school’s future that much.