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.

Founded in Sarasota in 1960, New College of Florida is the state's only legislatively designated Honors College of Florida. New College prepares intellectually curious students for lives of great achievement by providing a highly individualized education that integrates academic rigor with career-building experiences. New College offers 45 undergraduate majors in liberal arts and sciences, a master’s degree program in data science, and certificates in technology, finance, and business skills.

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