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10 Colleges Without Letter Grades

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The rigid system of grades and evaluations has become synonymous with the modern institution of education, as students receive letter grades for every class from primary school until the end of their college education. However, the accuracy and consistency of grades as a measure of academic performance is increasingly being called into question, and grade reform is one of the most important educational reforms in the foreseeable future. Furthermore, there are already colleges that are eliminating or altering the system of grading so that students can reflect their individual strengths and abilities that may not be reflected in a single grade. Below is a list of ten colleges that offer alternative methods of evaluation in the place of A-F grades.

10. Reed College

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Reed College differentiates their grading system from that of conventional colleges by identifying the negative pressure that the traditional grading system has on students, and eliminating it from their school. Reed College still records a conventional letter grade for every student, but the grades are not distributed to students. The rationale is that students can then focus on intellectual and academic pursuits instead of aiming for just a letter grade. The exception to this system is for students who have unsatisfactory grades, which is a C- or below. In addition, students can obtain their grades from advisers and course instructors if they wish to view their grade.

9. New College of Florida

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New College of Florida students must complete seven contracts, each one being a written agreement each semester to establish criteria for success. Typically, each contract will have three to five academic activities such as internships and independent study projects to enhance aspects of a student’s educational progress. The grades are replaced with narrative evaluations provided by professors, which are believed to be more helpful because it gives faculty a better understanding of each student. This also translates into more personal and detailed recommendation letters in the future as graduates move onto their professions or graduate school. To support its innovative grading system, the New College of Florida provides the following figures: 86 percent of grduates who applied to a Ph.D. program were accepted, as well as 100 percent of law school applicants.

8. Evergreen State College

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Evergreen State College encourages students to customize their education to suit their interests and goals. There are no required courses, and students develop their own academic plan in the form of Areas of Emphasis for themselves. Instead of A-F letter grades, the academic progress of students is measured with narrative evaluations provided by teachers. Evergreen State College equates this system of grading with receiving a letter of recommendation for every class, since prospective employers can get a better idea of the strengths and abilities of the student with the words of their teachers compared to just a letter grade.

7. Prescott College

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Prescott College is a private liberal arts college that aims to emphasize self-direction and internal learning through their grading system. The structure of grading involves narrative evaluation from professors that details how the students achieved their academic objectives throughout their time in the course. In addition, Prescott College integrates a student’s subjects into a coherent learning experience, since graduation programs culminate in Senior Projects that must be completed. Students have the freedom to decide the courses and independent studies to pursue in order for them to fulfill these tasks and execute their Senior Project to show their learning.

6. Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies

Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies

Fairhaven College is an interdisciplinary liberal arts college of Western Washington University. Instead of the A-to-F grading system, students at Fairhaven University evaluate their own performance for their college courses. This self-evaluation is combined with a faculty member’s narrative assessment of the student’s work and performance. This approach to grading is based on the belief that self-assessment and the ability for individuals to critique their performance honestly and effectively is an important skill for any student. Faculty evaluation is combined with student evaluations to form the academic history of the student. This allows students to articulate their strengths and weaknesses while reflecting on their learning in the past semester.

5. Alverno College

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Alverno College is a liberal arts college that emphasizes the personal approach to teaching and focuses on students as individuals. Instead of a letter grade, students at Alverno College receive a narrative transcript as documentation of academic learning and growth. A combination of a rigorous assessment process by faculty and professors as well as self-assessment of performance will be combined in order for students to truly learn from their courses. There will be formal and informal feedback throughout the course to reflect the performance of the student, culminating in the narrative transcript that records accomplishments for graduates schools and potential employers. It also means that students can personalize their grades and feedback through their actions, unconstrained by the rigid limits of the conventional A-F grading system.

4. Sarah Lawrence College

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Sarah Lawrence College uses a grading system which combines conventional letter grades with written evaluations by faculty of a student’s work. While the conventional grading system is kept in place for external purposes, the system of written evaluations is nevertheless an important component of a student’s learning experience at Sarah Lawrence College. This is because it fits within the seminar-conference system that forms the basis of education at Sarah Lawrence College; students learn in interactive classes, called seminars, that typically have no more than 14 students. Conferences are one-on-one interactions between a student and their professor. The written evaluations fits within this education system by providing a culmination of the dialogue between professors and students over the course of the year.

3. Antioch University

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Antioch University is an American private university, with five campuses across four different states. The campuses are located in Los Angeles, California; Seattle, Washington; Santa Barbara, California; Keene, New Hampshire; and Yellow Springs, Ohio. Antioch University uses the system of narrative evaluation as a substitute to the conventional grading system of A-F letter grades. This is done with contracts between faculty members and students that outline the requirements and objectives of their education. This allows focus to focus on educational goals instead of getting high letter grades; it is seen as a better demonstration of knowledge, understanding, and learning instead of the conventional grading system.

2. Hampshire College

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Hampshire College allows students to personalize their education and pursue their academic and intellectual curiosity with their grading system. Students are encouraged to design their own study programs and course schedules by providing the broad liberal arts education combined with the depth of specialized areas of concentration determined by the student. The narrative evaluation system of grading that Hampshire College uses also encourages cooperation and focus on learning. This grading system emphasizes the students themselves receiving constructive, detailed feedback on their learning, and faculty members write extensive feedback for students. This means that students can learn constructively from their grades instead of using bad grades as a punitive measure.

1. Brown University

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Brown University has a unique grading system in which students can choose which grading system they are participating in. Students can opt to be graded under the conventional grading system, but there are only grades of A, B or C, and there are no plus or minus signs in the grades. There is no grade of D, and failing grades in classes are not recorded by Brown University. On the other hand, students can also opt to only show their grades as Satisfactory/No Credit, which is reflected on the external transcripts of the student. Furthermore, students can request a written evaluation of their work from their instructor. However, this written evaluation is primarily for the student’s own use for reflection and improvement. The rationale behind this system of grading is that students are not encouraged to use their transcript as the only proof of their academic achievements and progress. Instead, they are encouraged to establish a portfolio of work and experience that is only supplemented by their grades, which is why Brown University offers the option for Satisfactory/No Credit grading. It also allows students to personalize their transcripts and customize it according to their needs and strengths.

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