Traditionally, if you went to school at any level, you would expect to receive letter grades on assignments, exams, and a final grade on your course, letting you know if you’ve passed or failed. It wasn’t always this way, however. Most of us would agree that well-respected scholars such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were highly educated, yet their education system was one of mentorship, not grading.
Our current grading system was developed by Englishman William Farish at the turn of the 19th century. Farish invented grades so that he could “process” more students at one time, avoiding the necessity of getting to know students and their individual learning styles. The result was that students were learning less, making it harder for them to succeed in the real world. In the 21st century, many schools are moving away from this model to a “no grades” system, where the past is now inspiring the future of education.
Trends in Higher Education
Increasing numbers of universities are embracing some advanced teaching trends that do away with the traditional grading model. In an effort to better prepare students for a global economy, schools are putting more focus on the student experience rather than just book knowledge.
Students receive credit for off-campus experiences, as well as receive microdegrees as they learn. Additionally, many universities now favor the development of work portfolios as the future of learning, gradually transitioning away from traditional grading.
Cultivating Confident and Resilient Students
Have you ever witnessed a new kindergarten or pre-K student at the start of the school year? Most are thrilled to be at school and anxious to learn. Then, something happens, and their confidence is eroded, often thanks to the use of antiquated testing and grading systems.
One school in Germany has found that, by allowing these children to create their own plans and develop skills, without grades, the students gain more confidence, resilience, creativity, and self-directed knowledge.
Some Common Concerns with No-Grades Schooling
Obviously, administrators, teachers, and parents would prefer that children not run their schools, and there are some concerns with no-grades schooling. In fact, the program has been implemented the D.C. metro area with a few concerns.
The system is designed to encourage the student to keep trying by allowing test re-takes, dropping low scores, having minimum scores for showing up, and not considering factors such as behavior and attendance. Opponents argue that some students aren’t learning much, and that the system isn’t preparing students either for college or success in the workforce.
The Competency-Based Trend in Education
Nearly anyone who works in education or who has school-aged children in the U.S. has heard of the Common Core Standards. This Federal education initiative has been rejected by some states, greeted by others with rigorous testing, and addressed by a choice few with a unique no-grades program called competency-based learning.
New Hampshire is the pioneer in the competency-based education system, which takes those Common Core Standards and translates them into actual skills. Students in many New Hampshire schools are given the opportunity to learn these skills, both in and out of the classroom. In some programs, students are able to design self-directed projects and move at their own pace, even setting up a progressive model of personalized learning.
In 2016, approximately 50 million public school students in the U.S. remain trapped in a grading system designed for 1915. Fortunately, several states and school districts are making important changes that focus more on the individual student and their learning pace, while ditching outmoded learning methods.