Appropriate for Judging Meat and Papers: The Outdated Grading System



Closeup image of childs school progress report.

Kate Hammer '25, Staff Writer

Long overdue for a change, the letter grading system needs to be replaced entirely before it can be considered both equitable and accurate.

There is an intense debate circulating school systems worldwide: Which is better, letter grades or pass/fail?  However, both options are problematic. Our current grading system requires dramatic change. Therefore, a more important question should guide grading reform: What system will be equitable for every student and prompt students to have a positive mindset coming into school?

Rubrics are an accurate and equitable way to grade across all subjects, as they can be edited to fit the curriculum of any class. I am not the only one to support this system; many educators support the use of rubrics, including our very own Ms. Perry, who employs rubrics in her classes.

During an interview I conducted in February, Ms. Perry stated that “the model we have in education now for measuring student learning is a model that comes from the industrial ages and is based on a factory model of education….Schools are based on factories, so kids move just like the product assembly line.” She further explained that rubrics push kids to have an open mindset in terms of improvement.  

Ms. Perry said, “If someone hands a student a test back and they get a 45%, all they are thinking about is their failure, the F. In order to promote a growth mindset, it is important for students to get feedback on what concept they did not understand and what they need to work on.”  

Ms. Perry uses a word-based rubric system when evaluating her students’ writing. In replacement of  numbers, Ms. Perry’s rubrics describe the goals for each part of the assignment to make the expectations of the project or homework easier for students to comprehend. I believe it could be taken a step further with letter grades abolished completely. When the student receives the rubric instead of a grade, they can better comprehend their strengths and weaknesses.

Making grading easily comprehensible is why a rubric-based grading system with descriptive wording of teacher expectations would provide more opportunities for students to understand what they did wrong and learn the material. Schools must promote open mindsets when giving grades to students. A rubric with ample detail and easy-to-interpret expectations gives students the information they need to go above and beyond, replacing our current system adequately.

However, not everyone is open to a reformed grading system. When I surveyed the students and faculty of the Upper School, a common concern about a reformed grading system was how the new system would affect college applications. Interestingly enough, most colleges plan to have a reformed grading system by 2030. For example, Harvard University–among other well-known colleges–is moving toward abolishing the letter grading system. 

According to Harvard Political Review, Dean of Undergraduate Education at Harvard, Amanda Claybaug, said,  “A new grading system would be highly beneficial to [Harvard]…[the students would be] be more intellectually adventurous in selecting the disciplines they study, they’d experiment more with their pedagogy, be unafraid to take the classes that interest them and focus on learning for learning’s own sake as opposed to jumping through hoops on the way to a higher GPA.” 

Harvard is not the only college that supports a reformed grading system. Other examples are Stanford, UPenn, Washington University in St. Louis, Yale, and Wake Forest. This reform support at the college level suggests that we at St. Luke’s would not be disadvantaged by changes here on the Hilltop. 

Instead of grading kids like beef, we should start to evaluate them like the humans they are. Colleges, public schools, and private schools across the country agree that change is needed. Our current grading system is neither adequate nor current, and it is vital for the mental health of our students and teachers that we reform grading to a strong and descriptive rubric-based system.