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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

'Ungrading' college

Many colleges have dropped admissions tests to promote diversity and equity: Applicants who grew up with educated (or Asian) parents and went to rigorous schools do a lot better than less-advantaged students. Plus tests are stressful.

Now colleges are "ungrading" the first year of classes -- or more, reports Hechinger's Jon Marcus. The goal is to promote equity and relieve stress, especially for first-generation and not-so-prepared students. Instead of A-F grades, students may receive a "pass" -- or have a failed course erased from the transcript.

"Some of the momentum behind un-grading is in response to growing concerns about student mental health," writes Marcus. "The number of college students with one or more mental health problems has doubled since 2013, according to a study by researchers at Boston University and elsewhere."

“I really fear that we’re shooting the messenger because we don’t like what we’re hearing,” said Michael Poliakoff, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. Eliminating grades is "setting up students “to slam into the wall, ultimately,” and end up with a “ticket-to-nowhere diploma that doesn’t represent the mastery of skills that will equip the person for success.”

Only 25 percent of high school students who took the ACT test last year met all four college-readiness benchmarks, which predict success in first-year college courses, noted Poliakoff. Thirty-eight percent met none.

Jody Greene, special adviser to the provost for educational equity and academic success at University of California at Santa Cruz, believes grades “are terrible motivators for doing sustained and deep learning. . . . if we were to shift our focus on to learning and away from grades, we would be able to tell whether we were graduating people with the skills that we say we’re graduating them with.”

How? Ouija boards?

College degrees are losing value, even as tuition keeps going up. If employers think graduates were passed along without demonstrating academic or coping or time-management skills, will they buy the "deeper learning" line? Good luck with that.

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