What Is ‘Un-Grading’ … And Is It A Good Thing For College Freshmen?

It's a new concept that has advocates and educators divided. What Is ‘Un-Grading’ … And Is It A Good Thing For College Freshmen? Giphy

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When students make the transition from high school to college, it can often be a huge cultural shock. On top of fending for themselves without parents nearby, they’re expected to attend classes, complete assignments, and start off their college careers with good grades.

While some folks might say “yeah, that’s what college is,” a growing number of colleges think there’s a better alternative.

Trying to relieve the stress

The first year of college is largely filled with requisite classes that aren’t tied to a student’s selected major. For that reason, those with a firm grasp on standard subjects can sometimes breeze through their freshman year as others struggle to meet expectations.

What’s the solution? Well, some institutions — like the University of California at Santa Cruz — are weighing the benefits of “un-grading,” which just means eliminating A-through-F grades for freshmen.

Jody Greene, a special adviser at the university, is advocating for such a program, asserting that it is important to “break the mindset that if the student got an A it means they learned.”

Is it a good idea?

So far, the reception has been mixed. Greene and others say “un-grading” can be a useful tool to help struggling students succeed. In some cases, advocates even recommend extending the concept past freshman year.

On the other hand, opponents say it’s a symptom of a larger trend that de-emphasizes achievement in education.

According to Frederick Hess of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, eliminating grades sends the impression that “students are too fragile” to receive academic feedback, which bypasses “a pretty significant element of the purpose of higher education.”

Instead, Hess recommends offering tools designed to help students acclimate themselves to the new environment, adding: “Things like grades and clear assignments can be enormously useful handrails to help you make your way.”

Chris Agee
Chris Agee March 27th, 2023
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