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Some colleges eliminate grading, cite students’ poor mental health, lack of preparation

‘Un-grading’ is a growing trend, according to NPR

More colleges are eliminating the standard A through F letter grading system for their students in an attempt to help them transition to college and manage their mental health.

“Called ‘un-grading,’ the idea is meant to ease the transition to higher education — especially for freshmen who are the first in their families to go to college or who weren’t well prepared for college-level work in high school and need more time to master it,” NPR reported Sunday.

Some advocates say students are too preoccupied with grades to focus on learning, and grades don’t measure mastery of concepts, the news outlet reported.

“Grades are not a representation of student learning,” Jody Greene, special adviser to the provost for educational equity and academic success at the University of California Santa Cruz, told NPR. Several faculty at UCSC are “experimenting with various forms of un-grading.”

In addition to UCSC, the University of Pittsburg, Missouri State University, University of Texas at Austin and Ball State University in Indiana each employ faculty who are trying “un-grading,” NPR reported.

Additionally, Barnard College in Manhattan, Emory University in Georgia and Baylor University in Texas provide their professors with information about the practice.

In January 2021, The College Fix reported on a math professor at Grand Valley State University in Michigan who adopted the method in his upper-level geometry class and allowed students to “convincingly argue” that they deserve a particular final grade for the course.

Some professors are adopting “un-grading” as a response to heightened mental health concerns, the news outlet reported.

In 2020–21, more than 60 percent of students “met criteria for one or more mental health problems, a nearly 50% increase from 2013,” according to a June 2022 research paper in the Journal of Affective Disorders by public health researchers at several American universities.

“Mental health worsened among all groups over the study period,” according to the researchers.

Sixty-one percent of teenagers feel “a lot of pressure” to get good grades, according to a 2021 Pew Research Center survey about adolescent depression and anxiety. “By comparison, about three-in-ten say they feel a lot of pressure to look good (29%) and to fit in socially (28%).”

However, some scholars say taking away grades is counterproductive for student learning and resilience.

“To tell me that these students are too fragile at age 18 or 19 for their educators to actually give them feedback on what they’ve learned or what they’ve mastered strikes me as missing a pretty significant element of the purpose of higher education,” Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, told NPR.

“Things like grades and clear assignments can be enormously useful handrails to help you make your way,” Hess said.

The “un-grading” efforts at some California schools may have been prompted by a report last year to the University of California Board of Regents’ Academic and Student Affairs Committee that found that “traditional grading methods could perpetuate bias,” according to NPR.

The report encouraged schools to consider different assessment methods.

MORE: Professor dismissed by NYU for hard grading speaks out against declining standards

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