The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Opinion | Colleges should replace traditional letter grading

Letter grades are outdated and ineffective at promoting learning. Alternative solutions must be found.
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Students should not be reduced to a mere letter or number because it confines intelligence to the constraints of traditional grading practices.

In most U.S.-based education systems, grades have become the essential determinant of a student’s worth, stifling creativity, discouraging exploration, and instilling a fear of failure. Students refer to themselves as “A”, “B”, or “C” grade students in conversation, and feel a sense of shame when they get failing grades. Grades have become a major factor of consideration when evaluating a student’s academic worth and predicting their success after school.

By eliminating traditional grading practices, we can foster a love for learning, promote individual growth, and create a more inclusive and equitable education system through alternative practices.

Many students feel if they don’t get excellent grades, they won’t be able to succeed in college or life after. This is a huge weight to put on students and can distract them from learning for the sake of learning because they are only focused on meeting basic requirements to obtain certain grades.

Letter grading is ineffective in communicating the expectations of the educator to the student. Grades fail to facilitate material retention and rather reward compliance.

According to Jody Greene, special adviser to the Provost for Educational Equity and Academic Success at University of California Santa Cruz, letter grades are not representative of student learning.

“As hard as it is for us to break the mindset that if the student got an ‘A’ it means they learned … if the student came in and struggled to get a C-plus, they may have learned a lot,” Greene said.

There are many alternative forms of measuring success that would be better than letter grading.

Instead, students could participate in a group discussion or debate on a topic in any given class and be assessed based on their contributions to the conversation either written or verbal.

In this case, there would be no “right or wrong” answers, and students could share their thoughts, what they learned, and where they need clarification, forming a personal connection with what they were taught. This also helps the teacher understand what their students grasp and what they need to focus on in the future to promote mastery of the topic.

Another method to replace traditional grades is “un-grading,” a practice that focuses more on individual assessment and feedback through the involvement of the student in the learning process rather than grading. It is about changing the meaning behind a letter grade and disrupting black-and-white thinking about what each grading letter means.

Supporters of un-grading say it makes the system fairer for students who must balance school with work, are first generation students, or students who are less prepared for college because of underfunded school systems, according to an Iowa Public Radio article.

Additionally, there is the option of “contract grading,” a form of evaluation that allows students to create a “contract” for their grade by completing specific assignments at a reasonable level of proficiency. To get an “A,” a student would complete a higher number of assignments than a student aiming for a “B.” Contract grading gives students agency over their learning and reduces stress and reliance upon grades.

I do not believe colleges should eliminate letter grades, but I do believe that they need to adapt grading protocol with the intention that students learn while still being held accountable. Hopefully, by implementing more standards-based grading practices, schools can become more perfect places of learning rather than empty performance.

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