It's time to rethink the value of letter grades

Dive Brief:

  • Quantitative assessments can lead to lower interest in learning from students and a lower willingness to take academic risks, and some teachers are looking for ways to provide more insight into student progress, as highlighted in a recent article in The Atlantic.  
  • Kentucky high school English teacher Ashley Lamb-Sinclair decided not to issue letter grades for six weeks and found classroom learning and parent interaction were mostly satisfactory during the period, with students taking the time to understand, debate and revise in a way they may not have with graded assignments. Lamb-Sinclair said that without grades, the challenge of the assignment became the motivator.
  • However, after the period ended, she found parents were frustrated by the lack of quantitative assessment despite higher levels of interaction. 

Dive Insight:

Lamb-Sinclair’s efforts are illustrative of a concern among many educators that quantitative assessments do not offer a positive effect on students’ education. Some also believe they do not adequately convey the extent of a student’s work and mastery of subjects, as reflected in messaging around efforts to push 100 elite high schools throughout the country to move away towards a traditional high school transcript. Instead, students would be measured by levels of proficiency and “mastery." Similarly, critics of the traditional college transcript believe that the conventional model does not paint an accurate picture of a student’s work and progress during their educational career.

However, colleges and universities are dependent upon using high school transcripts as a means to measure a student’s proficiency, just as post-baccalaureate programs use college transcripts to make admissions decisions. Supporters of eliminating the high school transcript started with elite high schools because they believed if those schools discontinued transcripts, higher ed institutions might be less wary of making their decisions based on unconventional assessments. But as reports continue to rise that high school graduates are less prepared for college and college graduates are less prepared for life after graduation, more institutions may want to consider experiential transcripts which demonstrate mastery, such as the one Elon University recently debuted.

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Filed Under: Higher Ed K12
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