The WITS Romance

A student checks in to WITS to check her grades. Photo by Jasmitha Keesara

By Simon Li

Having constant access to grades is an universal experience here at the Williamsville Central School District. At any point of the day, anyone can log onto WITS, otherwise known as the Williamsville Information Tracking System, and check their grades for each class. Whether it be for a test, quiz, essay, project, even a small class assignment, students are able to view their scores almost instantly (obviously, after a teacher has graded the assignments).

However, is this system truly beneficial for learning, or is it a detriment? In this article, I interviewed several students to get a better understanding of how students feel about this system within the wall-less halls of East. As it turns out, opinions vary wildly among students.

Why checking your grades is beneficial:

For Ethan Xie, senior, having constant access to grades helps “make sure that I’m organized and I stay on task so I don’t forget anything.” WITS, to Ethan, is a vital lifeline that he checks once a day to “make sure I didn’t miss an assignment or anything.” After all, if he did miss an assignment, he would know right away and be able to make it up. Just knowing how one did on an assignment also helps students to know what they did well in and what they still need to improve in. Without, it would essentially be like navigating through classes blind.

In many schools across the country, grades are not available until the end of each semester or marking period. Students do not know their grades until the very end and can do nothing to change it afterwards. This creates immense stress to do well on every assignment, losing track of what actual learning is about. After all, one would worry more if they didn’t know what they got. Having a system like WITS then lowers stress for students by allowing them to better track their own progress. One always has opportunities to improve their grade—all is not lost after a bad grade.

This isn’t to dismiss potential stress that students may feel with the availability of grades. A sophomore, who prefers to remain anonymous, said simply that “good grades had a positive impact on me, but bad grades had a negative impact” but that she “got over it five minutes after.” In terms of how she viewed the availability of grades, she said it was good and that it helps her “keep track of how I’m doing in each class.” While there were negative feelings associated with bad grades, as expected, it doesn’t act as a major detriment. Better to get feedback, good or bad, than be stuck waiting for three months between grades.

“If I got a bad grade on an assignment, I wouldn’t be happy about it, but what can you do?” Ethan mused. Yes, to be overly attached to grades is detrimental, but this attachment is not a core element of the availability of grades. For many here at East, WITS is merely a tool to measure their progress, nothing more, nothing less. It can be utilized poorly, leading to a perfectionist attitude towards grades, but it can also be utilized effectively. The difference is in how it is used.

Instead of dismissing WITS grades as something inherently bad, students can realize that the anxiety and stress over grades comes not just from the availability of grades. Students can acknowledge that the availability of grades is simply a tool that, if used in the right way, can lead to genuine success in the classroom.

Why checking your grades is detrimental:

The 24/7 access to grades may seem benign at first, but upon closer inspection, it can produce anxiety and stress for students. After any major assignment, students are pressured to constantly check WITS to see if the assignment had been uploaded. The scenario ends in three ways: they log in and see that the assignment is still “not up”, the assignment is up and they did worse than they expected, or the assignment is up and they did better or as expected.

For senior Nour Touti, checking grades has become a ritual. During our interview, she explained that she usually checks her grades “every time we have a test, obviously, and then before the end of the marking period for sure, a few times, and then at the beginning of the marking period.” This ritual, she implicitly emphasizes, is parasitic. Even slightly below average grades for one class for her translates to her doing worse off in other classes.

While some stress is okay and can boost performance, constant and high anxiety impairs it. This comes with no surprise—with constant worrying, who would be able to perform well? Yet this is exactly what constantly checking grades produces.
For Colleen Meosky, senior, this has indeed been detrimental to her mental health. “I check my grades probably three times a day,” she says matter of factly. In fact, things got so bad during her sophomore year (during the pandemic) that she would check her grades after each class. While Colleen may have taken it to the extreme, many students do check their grades on a regular basis, and that could produce a debilitating amount of stress.

Julian King, senior, sums it up succinctly. “You’re trying to live up to the expectation that you want to have a high grade, and if you don’t achieve that expectation you have to put pressure on yourself to do better in the future.”

This expectation Julian talks about should resonate with many students here at East. Called “grade obsession”, this phenomenon leads to the need to do well on assignments, often at the expense of learning. School becomes pure memorization and regurgitation to pursue a high GPA. He relates this back to a particularly transformative class he has taken, where grades took a backseat for learning to take place. “I once experienced a class where we didn’t have number grades, we had color grades, so basically the amount of blue you had would indicate high 90s—I guess that was a better method than getting straight numbers where you’re constantly worried.”

Instead of promoting constant stress and anxiety amongst students, schools should be a center of learning and engagement. To do this, schools may need to reconsider not just the availability of grades, but also the nature of grades as well.