Grades or No Grades?


During some recent sit-downs with our students and families regarding their experiences in the ARCTIC Zone in the first year, a common theme appeared: better grades. This came as a shock, as the ARCTIC Zone took pride in abolishing letter grades to the best of our ability last year. We did not discuss letter grades with students about any of their coursework, and we communicated to parents that the grades represented in our Skyward system at the end of each quarter was simply a formality required within the restraints of our district’s system. no_letter_grade_istock_630
Instead of relying on the “threat” of a meaningless and undesirable letter grade, the ARCTIC Zone focused on reflection and personal accountability. Though every passion project is unique in its content and product, all are assessed on the same process-focused rubric. The rubric highlights life skills like time-management, collaboration, and creative problem-solving. Students critique themselves and meet one-on-one with their advisor to discuss their strengths, areas of growth, and struggles. No grades. Reflection and personal accountability. 100% of our students showed growth on the rubric from the first to the final project.

How is it those same students ended the year still talking about their “grade” improvements? We are all enveloped in the old-school grade mentality, and it is going to require a major paradigm shift, which will take time. The goal is to move in a direction where student own their own learning and understand their personal areas of strengths and struggles. Not – “I struggle with math,” but – “I can calculate the area of rectangles and triangles, but I struggle with finding the area of a trapezoid.” Specifics.

For now, the ARCTIC Zone will be trying a new approach this coming year, where students will name their grades in all academic areas. At the end of the quarter, each student will reflect on his progress, skill mastery, task completion, efforts, and evidence of learning. During a one-on-one conference, he will make a pitch to persuade his advisor of the grade he has earned in each academic area. After all, a grade is not something a teacher “gives” or a students “gets.” It is earned. Perhaps this will be a step in the right direction, where students understand where the letter comes from and feel empowered to take control of that letter.

If you feel so moved, two recent articles surrounding the topic of grades in the classroom have caught my attention. Perhaps they will attract yours, as well:

A New Kind of Classroom: No Grades, No Failing, No Hurry

Goodbye to Grades. Mastery-Based Learning is Becoming the New Standard


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