Universities Bid Farewell to Letter Grades — by Melanie Mayne

How much do grades actually matter in the real world? A letter doesn’t say much about what a person can do. A percentage doesn’t tell you how to do it better. In the real life, we are not graded. Life is too complicated to sum it up with a single letter. That’s why colleges and universities all over the world have revamped their grading policies.

Some schools now use what they call “narrative evaluations” to grade students. A “narrative evaluation” basically says what you did wrong, what you did right, and how you can do it better next time. First, the instructor has a one-on-one conversation with you about all the tests and projects that you did during the term. Then, the instructor writes your evaluation. If you did well, the evaluation sounds similar to a letter of recommendation, which you can use to land a good job.

We students love “narrative evaluations” because it takes off so much pressure. The competition is gone since there are no grades to compare, and you aren’t graded on the same scale as everyone else. Teachers pay more attention to you so that they know what to write on your evaluation. When it’s time to apply for a job or graduate school, you can hand over a pile of “evaluations” to prove just how awesome you are.

On the other hand, “alternative grades” can screw up your chances of getting hired. What if you didn’t do well in a class, or if you didn’t get along with your instructor? A detailed description of how horrible you did is worse than just having a D or an F. Yet, some employers don’t know what a narrative evaluation is and just want to see your GPA. If your school doesn’t offer actual grades, then you could be in trouble.

The good news is that many of these schools have tried to fix this problem. Some schools will translate your evaluations into letter grades if you ask for them. Others have a phone number that you can give to your employer. The person on the other end will answer any questions or concerns that your employer has. Other schools give your “grade” in a single sentence so that your boss doesn’t have to do much reading.

It may seem like only “new age” colleges would lean so far away from tradition, but even big-shot universities have thrown out letter grades. Stanford Law and Yale Law Schools now grade students based on how well they passed. “Pass” means you did your work and learned the material. “Honors” means that you did more than pass—you were amazing! Your boss will understand and all you have to do is try your best to pass.

Using narrative evaluations changes more than just how you’re graded. It allows students with all different kinds of interests to do well in school, and maybe enjoy themselves. Traditionally, students spend four years in college just to get a degree. With no grades, you can go to school to learn and get ready for real life, which is what college is all about in the first place.

 

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