Keene High School is considering eliminating GPA and class rank. Midterms and finals have already been abolished. Rumor has it, teachers are demoralized. Certainly this parent is. It feels as if aliens have taken over.

Teachers spent their summer changing classes to conform to the new fad of competencies. Competencies go well with Internet courses — and a little research unearths that the change is promoted nationally by Bill Gates, Netflix and Mark Zuckerberg, who offer money to schools to adopt it. Online, competencies mean you can’t take the next section of the course until you pass the first. The fad is marketed as giving unmotivated students a chance to redo a section instead of getting an F.

Motivating kids to do their best is a perennial challenge, but this isn’t the route to high-quality education. More time on a device is not what I want for my kids. Instead, I appreciate the teacher who looks them in the eye and gets to know them personally, just as I do when I teach at Keene State College.

Many professors commute to Keene State from Amherst, Mass. I chose to live in Keene, and a big draw was the quality of the public schools. I’ve been able to develop a project where my students connect with local industry in economics courses, and my roots are so deep now, it would be hard to leave. For the first time in 19 years, I’m seriously thinking about relocating.

It is tragic if we let these changes go through. Keene High has outstanding teachers. Mr. Gitchell’s chemistry course changes kids’ lives; Mr. Derry in English taught my son to write profound essays; Ms. Leslie stayed after school to make sure the math was clear; there’s AP history and a remarkable trig-physics combination. Graduates from Keene High have gone on to Tufts and Stanford. Just give these teachers space to teach. Let us provide all the GPA and class rank data kids need to apply for scholarships wherever their hearts and work ethic take them.

The Keene community is known for careful governance, intellectual curiosity and dedication to family — aspects highlighted in a recent chamber of commerce brochure. A rushed embrace of an untested fad seems at odds with our values. I hope we can do something to reverse direction. Otherwise, we have just lost something that was more precious and fragile than we realized.


330 Hurricane Road