Transitioning from high school to college is an extremely stressful process. Not only do students have to keep up with their coursework, attend classes regularly and commit to extracurriculars, but they also must learn how to efficiently manage their time. In high school, if we missed an assignment or were struggling with the material in class, our teacher would likely speak with us in private to ask how they could support us in order to get back on track. In college, we don’t have this luxury — we are held accountable for everything. If we are in need of assistance, we discuss it with the professor or TA. That is logical, as professors have hundreds of students per course, and we are expected to be independent and to take accountability for our actions to prepare us for the working world. Most professors, when asked for help, will extend deadlines for assignments and hold office hours for questions and extra help; thus, most professors are understanding of possible extenuating circumstances. Yet, there is still high stress amongst students when it comes to grading.
Most classes I have taken and am currently taking do not offer any extra credit and do not curve tests. As a freshman, in my first semester, I had a very hard time adjusting to these strict rules and so did all of my friends. In high school, extra credit was usually offered to students whom the teachers knew were struggling yet making the effort to learn. The quick transition from a scheduled and supportive system to an independent one takes a toll on our academics as we are trying to balance school, work and our personal life.
Yet, the one similarity between university and high school is our familiarity with letter grades. Even though the transition is difficult, this itself should not be the reason for which we substitute letter grades for pass/fail or satisfactory/no-credit, just because we need to ease the stress of first-semester students. Part of the college experience for students is pushing themselves to be the best they can be, and being rewarded with great grades consequently.
But then this leads into the real issue with letter grades. A lot of the time students will cheat by plagiarizing their homework or test answers found on Chegg or Quizlet. If there is work that requires reading the course textbook and answering the questions, students may skim just to obtain the answers. Let’s face it, letter grades only reflect the quantity of our correct answers, not their quality. An NPR article by Jon Marcus discusses how some colleges are eliminating letter grades. The article quotes Jody Greene, special adviser to the provost for educational equity and academic success at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who says, “If a student already knew the material before taking the class and got that A, they didn’t learn anything, and if the student came in and struggled to get a C-plus, they may have learned a lot.”
Now while I still don’t think colleges should eliminate letter grades, I definitely think they should adapt for the intention that students learn. Instead of worksheets where we just copy answers from a textbook, perhaps classes should become more discussion-based, where students get graded for sharing their thoughts, what they learned, what they were confused about and where they would like clarification. Maybe all classes, regardless of major, could assign a reflection prompt after each class in this regard. In this case, there is no “right or wrong” answer and students can actually form a meaningful connection with what they were taught. This also can help the teacher understand what their students understand, and on which topic the next lesson should be gravitated toward. There are many more methods that encourage learning and reward students for participating and trying their best, but a compromise should be made. Letter grades must be kept, but student learning and hard work should be the only interest.