There is no feeling quite like seeing a letter grade on an assignment. When it’s an A+, there’s pride and confidence because it feels well-deserved. But then there’s the stomach churning, sinking feeling of D-, or lower if you were ever in my shoes.
It’s the feeling of failure, as though whatever I just did was not enough despite my efforts, when in actuality, the letter grade was misdiagnosed to begin with.
The traditional letter grading system deserves an F for it’s own failures and damage it has done to students across the world. The mental stress endured while trying to reach for a prestigious A+ is detrimental to the mind – not only is it almost always unattainable but also unrealistic.
Every educator has their own form of standards and expectations in every assignment given, therefore each grade is somehow already skewed from the start. While in high school, I quickly learned that it wasn’t about how I could execute this project to the best of my ability but rather how will this be most suitable for the person grading it. And I, myself, am not the only student who takes this into consideration when they do their homework.
Due to its rigid, inconsistency in evaluations, the traditional letter grading system is fundamentally broken and fails to truly help students prosper. Rather than focus on trying to produce strong work they can stand behind, students work to check off a mark in a rubric.
Studies have shown that when students are faced with graded tasks they become less inclined to take on the challenge due to the level of stress and feelings of low self-esteem that typically follows afterwards.
According Hae Yeon Lee, the lead author of the study, when students were given the opportunity to perform without formal grades, they were more “resilient” in response and thrived in their experience. He argues that with a “growth-oriented belief” then students’ abilities will strengthen.
With critiques, one is given the opportunity to gain a better understanding of their mishaps while also seeing their area of successes.
Although it is still uncommon and atypical in several levels of education, there are American universities and colleges that have veered away from traditional letter grading. In lieu of marking students with Bs and Cs, professors will produce narrative evaluations to work and assignments being reviewed.
Since 1969, Ivy League Brown University has allowed students to opt out of participating in what is seen as “conventional grading.” Students have the choice to receive written evaluations on assignments, along with labelling the grade as satisfactory/no credit. These written evaluations are meant for students to reflect on their work and make improvements.
Brown’s Center for Career and Life states “Brown students are encouraged to gather materials in their online portfolios that provide more nuanced measures of their knowledge and skills.”
With said materials, such as course performance reports, letters of recommendations and capstone projects, students are expected to present their abilities with “qualitative evidence” to future employers, thus presenting their “analytical ability, independence, creativity, communication and leadership skills.”
Through a narrative transcript, students will have a personalized manuscript of their work that better showcases their strengths and weaknesses. This is likely to be highly more appealing to employers because it will ideally describe how well a candidate will perform compared to making an unknown assumption from a letter grade.
Albeit Cs get degrees, the assessment of one’s work is what secures the job position.
This process may be easier said than done – given Brown University is a private learning institution therefore receives better forms of funding – but it could be possible starting with departments. Eliminating letter grades within the English department or marketing program might encourage students to produce work geared towards their ambitions vs. attempting to satisfying a grade.
If universities are really looking to do what is best for their students then they should work on reforming their grading system, from one of judgment on failures to one of promoting ideas.