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Grading the triangle: Why athletics should (or should not) receive a letter grade

Students, teachers and administrators weigh in on assigning letter grades to athletes

A sophomore takes five core academic classes and a computer elective. He spends several hours a day working on his homework, and devotes a significant amount of time and focus to obtaining high grades. His end of trimester report card comes back with an A in each of his classes.

A senior spends 20 hours creating his Advanced Video Production (AVP) film that gets accepted into several film festivals around the country. He puts a lot of effort into setting up camera angles, editing video and finding the right actors for his film. His end of year report card shows him with an A in AVP.

A junior competes in three Varsity sports for Greenhill, and attends club soccer practice three days a week following her Greenhill practices. She spends countless hours in the High Performance Center and on the field. She gets home at 8:30 p.m. on these nights, and begins her academic work. Her report card comes back with a P in each of her athletic “classes.”

Throughout Greenhill’s hallways, there are equilateral triangles designed to represent the equal importance of arts, academics, and athletics to the Greenhill community. However, only two of those three disciplines receive a letter grade that is factored into a student’s grade point average (GPA). Athletics, unlike arts and academics, are graded with a simple pass or a fail. With differences in grading philosophy between the disciplines, is the Greenhill triangle truly equilateral?

Senior Brooke Allen said that if fine arts classes are graded, sports should be too. Brooke is committed to play lacrosse at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, and is the goalie for varsity field hockey, soccer and lacrosse.

“I don’t think arts and athletics should be treated differently. If they are going to be valued equally as opportunities to grow outside of the classroom, they both should be factored into this thing that colleges look at, which is our GPA,” said Brooke. “How much do we value participation in athletics if we don’t factor that into a student’s GPA?”

Upper School Math teacher and Girls Varsity Basketball Coach Darryn Sandler said that Greenhill sports should not be graded, but that is not representative of their value compared to the other disciplines in the Greenhill community.

“I don’t think that grades determine how much we value one component of the triangle versus the other,” said Mr. Sandler. “I don’t think not grading one versus the other means that something’s more important from the school’s perspective. I don’t think grading sports or not grading sports will change the triangle and how the school values the three components.”

Mr. Sandler also said that assessing students in their athletic requirements would be detrimental to Greenhill athletics.

“I think that grading sports would be detrimental to our athletic programs, because students would be scared to try a sport out of fear of how it would affect their [GPA],” Mr. Sandler said. “It’s hard enough to get enough students to participate in sports, so we can’t do anything to deter people from wanting to come out and play.”

Junior Megan Olomu believes the equilateral triangle is important to have at Greenhill, but questions the values being placed on each discipline because of the grading differences. Megan participates in three varsity sports at Greenhill and also sings in Greenhill Singers.

“It’s [contradictory] to have one of the three disciplines of the triangle be pass-fail, because it says effort in arts is more important than effort in athletics for your GPA,” said Megan. “But, some fine arts don’t have as much of a team aspect, and Greenhill needs to incentivize that there is a standard in fine arts. For sports, it is expected you show up as part of a team.”

Junior Kevin Hoare believes in the idea of the triangle, but doesn’t think each discipline is treated the same. Kevin plays football, runs track and field and takes photography classes.

“I do like the idea of an equilateral triangle, but the way it is executed and carried out at Greenhill is not equilateral. [I think] athletics is a lot more paid attention to by the student body, but arts gets a letter grade credit,” said Kevin. “Each one has a pro and a con.”

Dean of Students Jack Oros said the idea of the Greenhill equilateral triangle is not always applicable because each student is unique.

“The triangle of arts, academics and athletics is not always equilateral. It is unrealistic that all students are equally adept in all sides of the triangle,” said Mr. Oros. “Exercising your body in athletics is just as important as exercising your mind in academics, which is just as important as exercising your creativity in the art, but every student has their own things in which they are interested.”

When asked about what their own personal triangle would look like if they could draw it, both Megan and sophomore Kaiti Ness drew triangles with sides of 60-30-10 percentage points, vastly different from an equilateral triangle with sides of 33-33-33.

Kaiti believes in valuing both athletics and arts equally, and likes the way Greenhill handles the grades in both disciplines right now. Kaiti runs cross country and track, plays basketball and also sings in the choir.

“As long as maximum effort is being given, it’s not unfair to grade two and not grade one,” Kaiti said. “[Many] people show a lot of effort in the sports they are in, and as long as you do that coaches shouldn’t have to differentiate between people that are good and people that work hard.”

She said the current arts grading system is beneficial, as it gives fine arts instructor a way to hold their students accountable with a letter grade.
Chad Wabrek, Head of Athletics and Physical Education, came to Greenhill from a school that did assign letter grades to students for their sports, but the grades were not factored into student GPAs. According to Mr. Wabrek, the grades were primarily to give credit for the course, and the majority of students received A’s for their effort each season.

Coach Wabrek said he does not want to switch to a letter-graded system for the athletics because of both the infeasibility of such a policy and the likely negative effects.

“If we put letter grades with sports, we might not see growth. We would most likely see a slippage in sports participation,” said Mr. Wabrek.

The decision to grade arts was put into place starting in the fall of 2014, and was instituted to inspire students to work hard in their fine arts classes. The initiative was spearheaded by Upper School Photography Teacher Frank Lopez and former Head of Upper School Laura Ross.

Terry Martin, Head of Fine Arts, was not at Greenhill when the decision was made to switch arts grades to a letter-graded system at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year.

He said he supports assigning a letter grade to fine arts courses, and thinks it has a positive effect on the effort put forth by students in the arts.

“It’s my feeling that if Upper School Fine Arts classes are pass-fail, then students might have a tendency to do the minimum. We pay very close attention to participation and effort.  We don’t give an A because a piece of art, or piece of music is “successful”.  Art is subjective.  The Fine Arts faculty evaluate how hard a student is trying.  A grade is partly for motivation, and I think with a grade scale rather than a pass-fail scale, it can motivate a student to focus and work harder because there is more on the line.” said Mr. Martin.

Brooke said Greenhill does not treat athletes fairly by not handing out letter grades in athletic courses.

“It’s not fair that an athlete isn’t given the same academic credit as an artist. To me, that is the school saying ‘this isn’t really an equilateral triangle’. Greenhill says each discipline is equally important, but we’re not evaluating the whole thing. We’re supposed to evaluate the whole student, not two-thirds of the student,” said Brooke.

Story by Zoe Allen and Harrison Heymann

Photos by Lili Stern

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