SSAs: Informative Reflections or Sources of Stress?
Photo of this article’s author, Nate Barkow ’25, speaking with Ms. Perry in the school halls; media provided by Alejandro Izurieta ’25
Student Self-Assessments (SSAs) were designed to be a valuable opportunity for self-reflection, but for some students, SSAs might more accurately be a source of stress and anguish.
SSA reports are an important part of the Grace high school community, whether they are viewed positively or not. SSA reports were brought back for the first quarter of the 2022-2023 school year after not being required in the spring of the 2021-22 school year. While school administrators were happy to see the return of SSAs, students had mixed reactions.
SSA reports are reports where students reflect on their experience, performance, and learning in their classes during the quarter. According to the email from Lorry Perry, the new head of high school, students are required to write 50 to 100-word responses about their letter-graded classes, which include their five major academic classes, as well as arts or philosophy and religion electives. Students are expected to self-evaluate their performance in the class, rather than offer their opinion on the teacher or the class overall. While some advisories give students time to write the reports, not all do, leaving students forced to fit this obligation into their busy schedules.
Ms. Perry played a role in the return of the SSAs but stated in an interview that it was not solely her decision. Ms. Perry received an email from Hugo Mahabir, Ms. Perry’s predecessor and Head of High School for a decade, who hoped that SSAs might be reinstated. Ms. Perry also talked with MiChelle Carpenter, the Assistant Head of the High School, about bringing back SSA reports.
Ms. Perry did not need much convincing, however, as she strongly believes in the importance of self-reflection. Ms. Perry views SSAs as “a special feature of our school.” She appreciates how there are multiple SSAs rather than one singular entry, which allows students “over the course of four years, to be able to look back on who you were as your freshman fall self to who you are as you’re applying to colleges…[which] is so helpful.”
Ms. Perry particularly likes the fact that SSAs at Grace happen before report cards are released because this timing allows students to reflect on their progress and share their opinions without solely discussing a grade.
That benefit comes at a cost to students, however. While these may seem like short paragraphs that could be written quickly, for some students the task can be burdensome. This year, SSAs were due on the last day of the quarter.
Sydney R.D. ‘25 said she thought that “SSAs aren’t that helpful” and that she thinks “they shouldn’t be due at the end of the quarter because we already have so much work that week.”
Ms. Perry acknowledged that it could be exhausting for students to fill out all of their SSAs at the same time. Therefore, she is willing to consider spreading them out, but there are no definitive plans for change yet.
There is also the question of privacy and confidentiality–whether teachers should see what students write. If teachers can see the assessments, students may feel pressure to tailor their SSAs to impress a teacher or say what they think a teacher might want to hear. On the other hand, giving teachers access to comments can help improve the dialogue between students and teachers.
Daria Melnyk, a Grace literature teacher and advisor, had a mainly positive outlook on the existence of SSAs. She pointed out how she has always seen her advisees’ SSAs, but does not usually get to see her students’ SSAs.
Ms. Melnyk thinks SSAs were helpful particularly because they allow teachers to see how students perceive their performance in class. Ms. Melnyk said SSAs allow students to “fill in the gaps between their experience and their perception of their experience and then [Ms. Melnyk’s] own perception of what was happening in the classroom.” Ms. Melnyk described how “sometimes a student found something challenging when it appeared to me that they sailed through that task effortlessly.”
Ms. Perry noted that the teacher feedback she has received about SSAs has been very positive so far. She described how many teachers have expressed gratitude for knowing how their students felt about their own work.
Interested in talking with students about SSAs, Ms. Perry said she hopes to discover whether the process of sharing SSAs with teachers is useful or if it “changed who they felt like the report was for.”
Ms. Melnyk suggested another possible reform to SSAs, which would be to have a “wider menu of prompts” for SSAs and possibly have different guiding questions for different departments.
Despite disagreement over the specific timing and access to the assessments, students and teachers alike agree that the general idea has value. Ms. Perry believes that the SSA “spurs goal-setting and spurs productive conversation with the adults in your life.”
Thea S. ‘26 agrees, noting that while it can be “a bit awkward how they are plastered front and center on our report cards,” they are “somewhat beneficial” and it helps that they serve as “goals we set for ourselves.”
Willa C. ‘25 said, “I don’t agree with having to do SSAs because they create an unnecessary amount of stress and they are too much extra work to do.” However, Willa also said, “I think that they are helpful for guiding parent-teacher conferences and make them better. They can also be helpful for teachers and advisors.”
Ms. Perry discussed how she knew some students would have rather shared feedback about teachers, but that is designed to happen in the class feedback forms that get sent later in the year.
Overall, SSAs were created and reinstated on a premise of encouraging students to reflect on their progress in school. As Ms. Perry said, SSAs help teachers find “ways that we can support the student in reaching their own goals,” as well as allow students to have time to focus on their goals and progress in a course.
While it does not seem like SSAs are going to be leaving the Grace community, Ms. Perry says she “is open to a lot of things,” like hearing feedback from students and possibly changing the format and timing of SSAs to improve the process for all students.