Can a School Without Grades Really Work?

Some schools are opting to remove grades altogether and focus instead on a mastery approach, but can a school without grades actually work?

Instead of awarding number or letter grades based on tests, many educational environments are switching to a different method of teaching where learning is measured through real-world projects. Rather than receiving report cards at the end of the semester or school year, teachers give each student specific feedback on areas where they need improvement through formative assessments. But what shifted the mindset of some administrators to create a school without grades?

“The world that we live in, you have to do things, you have to perform,” Ann Hadwen, a Vice Principal at a small high school in New Hampshire where they have done away with letter grades, told PRI.org. “It’s not a paper and pencil test that you’re trying to gain 100 points to say that you passed.”

Advantages

  • Specific Feedback

Rather than receiving a number grade to reflect a student’s mastery of the material, teachers at no-grade schools give detailed feedback on assignments. Student are then able to redo the work to prove they fully understand the lesson.

  • school without gradesNot Teaching to a Test

Instead of simply memorizing answers to a test, only to forget the information as soon as the exam is over, students are given tasks intended to make them retain and apply the material.

  • Can Give a More Accurate Representation of Knowledge

Sometimes a bad score on a test is not a true reflection of the student’s comprehension of the subject. With a more flexible system, teachers will better know where students need improvement.

Disadvantages

  • Longer Feedback Process

While multiple choice is easy to grade (either the student got the question right or wrong), giving each student specific notes on their work takes more time for the teacher.

  • school without gradesLess Incentive to Work

Low grades tell a student that they need to work harder to comprehend a subject. Grades can be stressful, but not having to worry about a failing score can make a student too comfortable and can even be demotivating for some students.

  • Difficulty Adjusting Back to Grades

Students may not always be at a school without grades, and the adjustment back to number or letter scores can be tough. This can mean a struggle when entering a new K-12 building, a trade school, community college, or traditional university.

Impact on Students

Going to a school without grades can have a positive impact on the student.

“I really enjoy having no grades, it really allows me to do my work without having to worry about getting a ‘good grade,’ ” Jason Chen, a 12th grade student, said according to Blogs.EdWeek.org. “Instead, I can just try my best to meet the standards. Another reason why having no grades really helps me personally is because English is one of my weakest subjects. In all my previous ELA classes, I would try to write and end up getting a B or C which really frustrates me. However, now that we don’t have grades, I’m really able to do my work without having to worry about getting a C.”

While many pupils are fans of this process, others are concerned that they won’t be able to adapt back to the normal grading system.

One high school senior heading to the Worcester Polytechnic Institute for college, Amanda Moulaison, voiced such a concern. “It’s really not applicable to the next four years of my life,” Moulaison said, according to PRI.org.

Places such as Hampshire College, Brown University, and Antioch University already have systems in place where letter grades are not used to teach students. Would you ever consider pushing your building to become a school without grades?

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Stephanie Petit

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