Inside Higher Ed, When Grading Less Is More:
When it comes to grading, less is more. So say a number of scholars who have shared their recent experiments with “ungrading” in blog posts and on other social media, sparking renewed discussions about the practice.
“My core hypothesis was that student learning would actually be improved by eliminating instructor grading from the course,” Marcus Schultz-Bergin, assistant lecturer of philosophy at Cleveland State University, wrote of going gradeless this semester in a personal blog post that has since been shared on the popular philosophy site Daily Nous.
“My hope” for students, Schultz-Bergin continued, “is that the reflection they engaged in, and the discussions we had, will lead to a significant commitment in the second half of the course to really achieve what they set out for themselves so that when they tell me they earned an A they can really mean it.”
Thus far, he added, the experiment in his undergraduate philosophy of law course "has had its ups and downs. There are definitely some things I will change going forward, but I do think the gradeless approach can work well in a course like this.”
Experts in ungrading say it’s still relatively rare in higher education, due in part to inertia with respect to pedagogical innovation, the culture of assessment and professors’ anxieties about going gradeless. How will students respond? What will colleagues say? What will administrators think?
Still, ungrading is more common than one might think. And there are sound pedagogical reasons to do it, given the litany of research finding that grades play to extrinsic (not intrinsic) motivation, decrease enjoyment of learning and increase fears of failure. More than that, grades aren’t necessarily a good measure of student learning. And, based on additional research, we know they're subject to rampant inflation.
“There are a surprising number of faculty questioning grades in productive ways, and experimenting with alternative modes of assessment,” said Jesse Stommel, executive director of the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies at University of Mary Washington, and an early evangelist of ungrading. “If, as teachers, we just ask students why, when and how they learn, what we can get back is way more valuable than any standardized assessment mechanism can reveal.” Ungrading “creates space for that kind of honest reflection and dialogue,” he said.