Campus Reform | No more letter grades? Higher ed is promoting these alternative grading systems.

No more letter grades? Higher ed is promoting these alternative grading systems.

Campus Reform covers the push to abandon the traditional A-F grading system in favor of alternative pedagogies championed by leftist academics.

Below is a breakdown of non-traditional pedagogies and grading philosophies.

Campus Reform covers the push to abandon the traditional A-F grading system in favor of alternative pedagogies championed by leftist academics.

The A-F grading system widely used today can be traced back to the 17th century and was formalized in America around World War II, the educational website GradeHub explains. 

"As the [100-point] system took hold, the objective scale contributed to the higher numbers of women and minorities competing for spots in college," the GradeHub website states. 

[RELATED: ANALYSIS: Evidence disputes professor's tips to eliminate grades, attendance, deadlines]

This legacy, however, has not stopped some scholars and administrators from accusing traditional grading approaches as being either racist or culpable in White supremacy. 

Though the academic push for alternative grading systems is rooted in higher education, it also affects K-12 learning as well. Below is a breakdown of the alternative pedagogies and grading philosophies.


Competency-Based Grading:

Competency-Based Education is a pedagogy often applied to adult learners. As Nichols College explains on its website, this approach can be effective for professionals already in the workforce. 

"In most higher education, time is the constant and learning is the variable," Paul LeBlanc, president of Southern New Hampshire University, told Campus Reform. "In competency-based education, learning is the constant, and time is the variable.”

Within this system, students have a number of “competencies” they must master but it does not matter how long it takes them to accomplish that goal. 

A student who fails an exam or does not submit assignments would still be given the opportunity to complete satisfactory work demonstrating competency in the subject. 

Southern New Hampshire University’s own Competency Based Grading program (Cfa), “blends academic content with the soft skills and core competencies that employers are looking for.” 

SNHU competency-based learners complete an associate degree in 1.3 years compared to 1.8 years for course-based learners," a university spokesperson told Campus Reform. "For a bachelor’s degree, the average time for competency-based learners is 1.5 years, while course-based learners complete in 2.6 years."

Though this approach works for mid-career or other non-traditional students in higher education, it is nonetheless being applied to K-12 education in California. 

School districts across the state invoked "competency-based learning" when they announced last year that their teachers would cease giving students "D" and "F' grades, WGN9 reported Dec. 8. 

The school districts include Los Angeles and Sacramento, according to the news outlet. 


Labor Based Grading:

Labor-Based Grading assesses students based on quantity rather than quality. 

Arizona State University professor Asao Inoue is a major proponent of this system and has written several blog posts and books about it. Campus Reform previously reported on Inoue's book, Labor-Based Grading Contracts: Building Equity and Inclusion in the Compassionate Writing Classroom.

In the book, "Inoue offers a robust Marxian theory of labor," according to the publication description. The premise of Inoue's theory involves a contract between the teacher and students that gets re-negotiated throughout the course. 

Specifically, Inoue's grading system would have the students and teacher determine the following:

  1. "How much access to time each week do we feel is appropriate for this course, given what we hope to accomplish and what is expected of each of us?" 
  2. "How much labor each week will constitute A, B, or C progress?" 
  3. "How will you know when you have completed the labor of an assignment adequately?" 
  4. "How will the teacher know that you’ve followed the labor instructions for any reading or writing assignment?" 
  5. "What are the markers of your labor that can be used both for our contract purposes and for your own reflection purposes?"


Standards-Based Grading:

Standards-Based Grading operates similarly to Competency-Based Grading. 

Under this system, students are not graded on individual assignments. Instead, educators assess proficiency in each skills, usually with a 1-4 grading scale. 

According to TeacherEase, an education technology company, defines “standards-based education" as a pedagogy in which "teaching is responsive to learning." 

"When starting a new target, teachers present introductory lessons. As students progress, they are offered more complex material,” the company's website states. 


Narrative Evaluation System:

Narrative Evaluation System replaces letter grades with written feedback to students. The educator is responsible for evaluating and communicating a student's strengths and weaknesses by writing paragraphs of feedback instead of (or complementary to) standard letter grades.

The University of California at Santa Cruz uses this system, but apparently de-emphasized its importance in 2010 when the school made narratives optional. 

Campus Reform reached out to Asao Inoue, Paul Leblanc, Southern New Hampshire University, and the University of California at Santa Cruz. This article will be updated accordingly.


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