Building a better ruler: Does ditching grades lead to better assessment of student learning?

A recent profile by Jonathan Lash, president at Hamilton University, in the Hechinger Report takes a look at how his institution has been able to increase retention and diversify its student-body socioeconomically.  He draws a straight line from this change to the use of narrative student evaluations in lieu of grades, a need-blind admissions policy, and no longer accepting ACT and SAT exams for admissions.

After almost five decades of our professors’ assessing students using written evaluations, we’ve seen and documented their benefits as an alternative to grades. Grades tell students the absolute minimum about their abilities; they tell them only whether they have earned enough points under a teacher’s rubric to get a good mark.

Too many students use grades to figure out how to do only what’s required, asking their teachers questions like “What do I have to do to get an A?” At the same time, they’re trying to determine the minimum they can “know” to pass. “How can I game the system?” “What are the fluff courses that will get me an easy A?”

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About Dr. J. Metzker

I believe in the power of a liberal education to transform individuals and society. I am currently the Executive Director of the Brown Center for Faculty Innovation and Excellence. Formerly, I led a community engagement initiative and held a full professorship in chemistry at a public liberal arts university. I am a proud product of The Evergreen State College.
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