Narrative Evaluation to Replace Letter Grades

From Jorge Zhang’s blog, April 20, 2020

A few weeks ago, I outlined why I believe that grades need to be abolished. The main argument is that grades have alienated students from the real purpose of education. Rather than learn, students obey their teacher’s instructions as closely as possible to maximize their grade. Abolishing grades might actually make graduates more competitive: creative problem-solving employees are are in high demand, but grades limit risk-taking and creativity. Abolishing grades will also create a more collaborative and less stressful environment.

The natural follow-up question is, has abolishing grades ever been done successfully before?

The answer is yes… but most schools who claim to have abolished grades actually only have partial implementation at best. Brown University allows students to take classes P/F, but most students choose not to (This seems to be a collective action problem in which choosing P/F seems to imply academic weakness in the eyes of employers, forcing students to P/F sparingly). The Evergreen State College has no GPA, but professors still award between 0-16 credits for each course taken (an additional side-effect is that it can be difficult to graduate within 4 years if professors are stingy with credits awarded). Reed College and St. John’s College still have GPA- they just don’t tell students what grade they have. Yale Law School abolished letter grades, but still has a fail, low pass, pass, pass with honors system.

That said, there were a handful of schools that I believe truly embody the spirit of “abolishing grades.” They are: The New College of Florida, Hampshire College, and Antioch University. Moreover, they all have found an alternative that seems to have pleased everyone, from employers and graduate schools to students and professors: narrative evaluation. I will go over 2 of these 3 schools, and then discuss the benefits of narrative evaluation.

Read the entire article here.


Located in Sarasota, New College of Florida has educated intellectually curious students for lives of great achievement since its founding in 1960. As the State of Florida’s designated honors college, New College provides an exceptional education that transforms students’ intellectual curiosity into personal accomplishment. The 110-acre campus on Sarasota Bay is home to more than 700 students and 80 full-time faculty engaged in interdisciplinary research and collaborative learning. New College offers nearly 40 areas of concentration for undergraduates and a master’s degree program in Data Science.

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