• Beth Ott

Can you REALLY go Gradeless?

Your questions answered.

Student looking at paper she got back, earned an A+.
What's in a grade?

Last week my Twitter feed and Facebook friends seemed to all be on the same wavelength. Many were discussing the problematic approach of grading 'late' work, 're-takes', etc. to which I replied (in my head) 'just go gradeless'!! Look, I know it's not just that simple so I wanted to answer some questions that you all had when I initially posted about this.


Q. How do students know if they are doing well/not well if they don't get a grade?

A. Gradeless doesn't mean not assessed. Most schools that implement a gradeless system are providing feedback via rubrics, feedback sessions, conferences, written feedback, verbal feedback, etc. Because feedback loops and conferences are often cyclical, I would argue that students actually know more about their understanding of a standard than if they just receive a grade.

Q. So what do students earn, if they don't earn a grade?

A. Students will typically 'earn' or 'not earn' standards, which are small chunks or goals of learning. If a student doesn't earn that standard, they will typically be able to earn it again in a different class, or will need to re-do work to show improvement/understanding. More over, they might even have a better understanding of their learning by utilize things like color coding, rubrics, and summative assessments or artifacts of learning.

Q. But it doesn't prepare students for college, does it?

A. I have lots to say about this one, but I'll try to keep it short. 1. I would love for us to stop preparing students for college, and instead make sure they are prepared to learn, in whatever industry they choose to go into. 2. Because the increase of the non-traditional schools, colleges are seeing an increase in applications from non-traditional students. Mark Dziedzic, Director of Greater Madison Writing Project  UW-Madison states that these schools teach students HOW to learn, not what to learn, which is essential for success at the post-secondary level. 3. More and more colleges and programs are moving towards proficiency based grading, especially at the graduate level and higher.

Q. But can they get into a good college?

A. YES. FULL STOP. Again, lots of thoughts about pushing students towards college and especially 'good' colleges, instead of recognizing the pure genius in each student and finding programs and post-secondary plans that nurture that. But that's besides the point. The point is Yes. They can get into good colleges without a traditional transcript. How do I know? I've worked at a gradeless school for 5 years, and our students have gone on to some of these prestigious colleges. And they've flourished. They have come back and shared how our school actually prepared them better for college than some of their peers.


Had a question that I didn't answer? Drop it in the comments below! Want to push back on some of my thoughts? I value feedback! Let me know what you are thinking.

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