In an effort to make sure that first-year students return for their sophomore year, some institutions are doing away with letter grades. It’s a practice called “ungrading” that can allow students to determine how they want to be assessed based on personal goals – such as with a project or a report – instead of traditional grades. Schools such as Brown University, MIT and Wellesley College have first-year ungrading programs in place. And the UC Board of Regents reported that traditional grading systems often reflect social, educational and economic inequities.

“The thing about grades is they are not related to learning,” Jody Greene, associate vice provost for teaching and learning at UC Santa Cruz, told National Public Radio member station KQED. “Grades are not a representation of student learning as much – as hard as it is for us to break the mindset that if the student got an A, it means they learned.”

Ungrading is also becoming a popular practice due to students’ mental health concerns and the stress that traditional grading systems can cause, especially in their first year. “It took a while for me to, like, detangle my sense of self-worth from the grades that I was getting,” UC Santa Cruz sophomore Loki Malak told the station. “I am so concerned about getting an A that I’m just so stressed in the class that I can barely focus,” freshman student Serena Ramirez said.

The practice isn’t without its critics, however. Rick Hess at the American Enterprise Institute believe grades prepare students for the real world, serving as “enormously useful handrails to help you make your way.”

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