What Is ‘Ungrading’ and Which Colleges Are Doing It?

Some schools and professors are embracing “ungrading” or moving away from traditional A-F grading systems in favor of self-evaluation and other methods they say better serve students.
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  • Some colleges don't use the typical A-F grading system and instead have alternative evaluation methods for students.
  • Many of those schools use narrative evaluations featuring feedback about a student's performance.
  • Advocates for "ungrading," or moving away from traditional grades, say it helps students get more out of their college experience.

Some colleges are ditching traditional A-F grades in favor of alternative methods that advocates say better serve students.

"Ungrading," which eschews traditional grades in favor of methods like self-evaluations, has long been practiced at some colleges. Some professors across the country are now implementing the practice in their individual classrooms.

Colleges have a wide range of approaches to ungrading. At Hampshire College in Massachusetts, students receive "narrative evaluations" in place of grades. That includes feedback from faculty members on papers and projects, according to the school's website.

Other schools target ungrading to first-year students: At Harvey Mudd College in California, first-year students receive "high pass," "pass," or "no credit" grades during their first semester, according to the school's website.

Moving away from traditional grading encourages "a growth mindset that can help students take agency in their learning" and creative thinking by removing the threat of a "bad grade," according to a resource created by Christopher Phillips, an English professor at Lafayette College.

It can also offset inequities for historically underserved students, according to Phillips, and supports supportive classrooms by cutting back on competition.

The University of California system is among the higher education institutions exploring ungrading. A 2022 report to the system's Academic and Student Affairs Committee stated that traditional grading "may perpetuate bias and inequities."

Some of the system's schools have already taken steps toward self-evaluations and peer reviews without completely moving away from traditional grades, according to that report. The University of California, Santa Barbara incorporates peer reviews into some writing assignments — a practice that decreases equity gaps, according to the report.

"Research shows that each stage of this process — writing, receiving feedback, and providing feedback — reduces equity gaps," the report reads.

"To date, more than 6,000 students have completed writing/review activities using learning review, showing promising results with gaps in average final exam scores decreasing for underrepresented and first-generation students who completed writing and peer review assessments using the peer review and feedback platform."

Some professors are experimenting with ungrading at schools that haven't moved away from traditional grades on a wide scale.

Emily Luxon, an associate professor of political science at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, incorporates ungrading practices like allowing students chances to revise their work for full credit in her courses, according to a blog post from the school.

Luxon's courses still include a letter grade, according to the blog post, but include elements of ungrading like encouraging revision and asking students to rate their own work.

"A student might give themselves a 'B,' but I might see their work as an 'A,'" Luxon said in the post. "Or they might say it's an 'A' and I think it's a 'C.' But then you have an opportunity to help a student see why it's not an 'A,' at least not yet, and help them discover a pathway to get an 'A.' Or I can help them see more value in their work than they were giving themselves credit for."

While more colleges and professors are exploring alternative grading methods, the use of narrative evaluations is nothing new.

The Evergreen State College in Washington was founded on the principle of meaningful feedback rather than simple letter grades, according to its website, and has eschewed both grades and traditional requirements for undergraduate degrees since its first students arrived in 1971.

Colleges and Law Schools Ditching Traditional Grades

Last Updated: March 28, 2023 at 2:10 P.M. EST

Colleges & Universities

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Alverno College

Alverno College

Bennington College

Brown University

College of the Atlantic

Columbia University*

* Medical School; School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation; School of Dental & Oral Surgery; School of Journalism; School of the Arts

The Evergreen State College

Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies at Western Washington University

Goddard College

Hampshire College

Harvey Mudd College

New College of Florida

Prescott College

Reed College

  • Portland, Oregon
  • Grading Policy: Records A,B,C,D,F grades. Does not distribute grades if a student is at satisfactory (C or higher) levels. Traditional grading is on the official transcript.

Sarah Lawrence College

St. John's College

  • Annapolis, Maryland; Santa Fe, New Mexico
  • Grading Policy: Narrative Evaluation. Records A,B,C,D,F grades but does not distribute grades to students. Students are often told not to worry about grades and speak to tutors about academic concern.

Wellesley College

Law Schools

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University of California Berkeley School of Law

Harvard Law School

Northeastern School of Law

Stanford School of Law

Yale Law School