Lead Ed: Mid-semester Comments Earn a Failing Grade

Comments are non-specific and unhelpful for teachers, parents, and students

Effective communication between students and teachers is a necessary component of any healthy school environment. And while Trinity generally affords its teachers with ample opportunities to provide their students with meaningful feedback, no method of communication is nearly as unhelpful, unnecessary  and all around useless for all those involved than the mid-semester comment.

Mid-semester comments provide repetitive surface level reassurance to students while wasting an unconscionable amount of teachers’ time. The process of comment writing interferes with the standard grading process, which in many classes, often replaces helpful feedback with unhelpful feedback. Imagine if, as a student, you were forced to write thousands upon thousands of words of repetitive rhetoric that would never be read. Now imagine doing it twice every year. 

When feedback is not based on a specific test, quiz or essay, comments become harder to write, as teachers have nothing concrete to refer to other than a cumulative grade. Occasionally, teachers will cite a recent project or test in their comments, but the same principles of limited time applies. 

Consequently, mid-semester comments often function more as character evaluations than assessments of proficiency, prioritizing the students’ personality traits in lieu of gauging their performance in the class. While personality evaluations are not inherently useless, the primary goal of teachers’ comments should be to give feedback based on the class.

A focus on personality becomes even more unproductive when teachers are simultaneously inundated with hundreds of personality evaluations to write at a time. Any hope of specificity and in-depth review unfortunately goes out the window entirely when one is required for every single student. 

Additionally, when faced with the daunting task of writing dozens of comments, teachers default to positive feedback. As a result, even comments written with genuine intent, specifically written to commend a student for his or her achievements, come off as hollow. 

Generally speaking, traditional classes can be divided into two categories: curricula focusing on subjective material and analysis, such as English, world languages, and social sciences, and curricula focusing on objective material, such as math and the sciences. In terms of comments, delineating between the two categories is vital, as feedback on a math test will greatly differ from that of an English essay. 

In subjective courses, comments are only effective in direct reference to a specific assignment or piece of writing, where there isn’t necessarily one correct answer. When comments are broadened to assess overall performance, as they are in mid-semester comments, teachers are often unable to provide specific feedback.

For example, while on their sixtieth comment, an English teacher will likely struggle to remember that their student struggled with commas Additionally, a student will likely have already received specific feedback on tests, quizzes, and papers, so a comment citing the same issue is redundant. Consequently, comments in subjective courses are at worst useless and nonspecific and at best repetitive. 

On the other hand, in objective courses, comments are almost entirely useless. Teachers in these courses often recognize the difficulty in relaying feedback for objective work, and routinely make themselves available for students to ask targeted questions about course topics. A cumulative comment has no utility for these classes, as it is nearly impossible to make qualitative observations about quantitative course material.

Administration emphasizes that comments are intended for parents, justifying the personality-based feedback often given by teachers. But, if anyone is aware of students’ personality traits, it is their own parents. 

Crucially, what parents often lack is an in-depth understanding of their child’s specific deficiencies or strengths in a class. Considering that teachers are unable to write individualized and productive comments for all their students, such understanding is unattainable through the current system. If parents want to truly understand their child’s performance in a class, they have the ability to schedule one-on-one meetings with teachers. 

Teachers have too many comments to write. Thus, even though every teacher at Trinity would genuinely like to relay their positive and negative feedback to students, they cannot. In the interest of time, they all too often default to simplistic and generalized positive feedback that makes no attempt at specificity relative to the student. Consequently, comments are categorically unhelpful for students. 

To emphasize, this is not the teachers’ fault in the slightest. Teachers are happy to assist students individually during study period and provide helpful feedback on tests, assignments, and essays. 

However, mid-semester comments should not be seen as an extension of that ability. Comments do near to nothing in helping students gauge their teachers’ opinions of their performance, and if that isn’t bad enough, they restrict teachers from focusing on the normal grading cycle by taking up an unnecessary amount of their time. 

As a result, it is imperative that Trinity get rid of mid-semester comments, and focus on facilitating more meaningful communication between teachers and students.

   The lead editorial expresses the opinion of the Trinity Voice editorial staff. Please send comments to [email protected]