For years, college classrooms have been plagued with one question — “Is this for a grade?” Today’s traditional grading system in the form of ABCDF has proved inefficient for most educators. According to an article titled, “A Simple Alternative to Grading,” Glenda Potts, an English instructor at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, expresses her concerns with graded systems:
The goal in classrooms should be learning and retention, not the acquisition of meaningless letters or numbers. I have realigned my own priorities in teaching, asking not ‘What grade did this student earn?’ but ‘What can I do to help this student?’
It is not uncommon to hear that students will memorize information for a test or examination for the purpose of receiving a good grade and immediatly forget the material once completed. In the case of writing, Potts cites this same occurrence — an educational focus on grades rather than improving student learning and retention.
Potts cites Peter Elbow’s, English educator and theorist, book titled, Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking: Sorting out Three Forms of Judgement. Elbow equates grading to ranking. Ranking is “the act of summing up one’s judgment of a performance or person into a single, holistic number or score. We rank every time we give a grade or holistic score.” Thus, it comes by no surprise that educators such as Elbow have done away with grades — universities and colleges, too.
Institutions such as Evergreen State, Oregon State, Sarah Lawrence and others have already redefined their grading systems. Brown University, for example, has utilized an open curriculum since 1969. The university “eliminated breadth requirements and implemented grading policies that encourage students to explore the curriculum widely.” What does this look like? Students can choose to take their courses for a letter grade or on a Satisfactory/No credit basis. In addition, “the Brown transcript records only full-letter grades of A, B or C (without plusses and minuses) or S (for Satisfactory). There is no grade of D, and failing grades are not recorded.”
According to the University:
Brown’s unique grading system, coupled with the fact that Brown does not calculate grade point averages for its students, makes it difficult to compare a Brown student transcript with one from another school. Brown students are encouraged to gather materials in their online portfolios that provide more nuanced measures of their knowledge and skills.
If these universities/colleges can do it, why can’t others? The traditional ABCDF grading system does not yield motivation to learn or improve one’s work. Instead, letter grades classify young adults by their strengths and weakness and promote that attitude in students. If you were told you were a C student in math, would you pursue a career path in that field? Absolutely not. It is the job of higher education institutions to promote and enhance the quality of their students, not what numerical value they can obtain. This means grading based on performance, creativity, leadership skills and much, much, more.