Is it time to retire letter grades?

Is it time to retire letter grades?

COVID-19 has exposed the limitations of many educational structures, including a grading system that has outlived its usefulness. Are K-12 leaders bold enough to make systemic changes?

The COVID-19 pandemic has been incredibly disruptive to education, hindering instruction and other services for thousands — perhaps millions — of K-12 students across the United States. But those who see the glass as half full would say it has also presented schools with a unique opportunity for change.

Count Michael Horn among these optimists. In his podcast series “Class Disrupted,” Horn — an author and consultant who focuses on the future of education — has teamed up with Diane Tavenner, co-founder and CEO of the Summit Public Schools charter network, to discuss how the sudden shift to remote learning this past spring exposed the limitations of many educational structures we take for granted. Yet, it also suggests what might be possible if K-12 leaders are bold enough to see a new way forward, Horn and Tavenner agree.

For instance, a lot of the time wasted in transitioning from one class to another during a traditional school day could be reclaimed for learning and practicing essential life skills, they say. The factory-style model that herds students in groups from class to class could be replaced by a more personalized, student-centered approach that caters to each child’s unique interests and learning needs. And the letter-grade system that schools have been using to evaluate student learning for generations could be supplanted by a mastery-based grading system that gives stakeholders much more insight into what students know.

Rethinking the purpose of grades

As Horn noted in his podcast, many school systems adopted a pass-fail grading system instead of giving out letter grades to students this past spring — and some even chose to give every student an “A” instead.

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