English Teacher Challenging Traditional Grading Methods
English teacher Angela Hunt is reducing the importance and stress of grades by replacing them with other forms of grading, as well as completing a calm mindfulness practice at the beginning of each class to relax her students.
“I believe that grades serve as data to show students how they’re doing, and I’m one of the teachers that believes in the philosophy of using a coding system instead of points,” said Hunt. “We have a grade agreement at the beginning and they write me a letter, and they have a portfolio [which] acts as evidence to serve as data for the grade [they think they earned].”
Hunt does not utilize traditional letter grades, and instead attaches various labels, such as ‘complete’ and ‘almost’, to her student’s work. At the end of each semester, Hunt’s students argue for their own grades.
Hunt said that her method places an emphasis on learning rather than stressing for a grade, which to students is an important thing for their future.
“Getting into college, you need to have good grades, and it puts a lot of stress on kids to push themselves to get the grade versus learn the material as well as they can,” said Gabby Cook, Sophomore.
Hunt’s system also ensures that her students are learning and growing as writers, as opposed to memorizing a formula or definition without understanding it.
“Grades can be misleading sometimes,” said Justin Gheleta, Freshman. “Someone can have an A in the class just because they know how to play the system and play by the rules.”
In addition to letting her students argue for their grades, Hunt also practices mindfulness at the beginning of every class.
“Going through the mindfulness training and talking to a lot of different teachers and students around here has really changed my philosophy and how I think about [grading],” said Hunt.
Hunt says that her new systems, including the mindfulness practice, have helped reduce the stress her students experience daily. By decreasing that stress, it has allowed her and her students to “focus on the purpose, which is learning, rather than just getting an A,” she said.
Getting rid of the traditional letter-grading system is a trend evident throughout the country.
Hampshire College is a grade-free university in Amherst, Massachusetts. Jonathan Lash, the president of Hampshire College, wrote in an email that his college has never given out grades “because grades don’t teach.”
“That was part of the founding philosophy,” Lash added. “Hampshire College was founded on the idea that learning should be a shared enterprise between faculty and student.”
Instead of grades, students at Hampshire College receive written narratives and write reflections on their own work.
Lash wrote that the results of their methods have been positive, encouraging his school to continue their grade-free policies.
“Hampshire is in the top 1% of colleges in the percentage of our students who go on to get the top degree in their field,” wrote Lash. “That [indicates that] they have have become skilled learners and thinkers.”
Could these new ways of evaluating students spread to Fairview? Principal Don Stenstrud says that it’s possible.
“We probably could [be a grades-free school],” said Stenstrud. “Grades don’t define us.”