“Shadow Grading”: The New Grading System Sweeping Schools

“Shadow grading”, or grading on a pass/fail basis, has become increasingly utilized in colleges, but will its usage expand further?



Molly Molloy, Contributing Reporter

As the school year wraps up, now more than ever Glenbard West students are stressed getting their GPA’s solidified and studying for challenging finals. But what if students didn’t have to stress about class grades? At Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the most prestigious and well known colleges in the world, first semester freshmen are not graded on an A-F scale, but rather on a pass/fail basis only.

This system called “shadow grading” directs students to value learning rather than grades. The idea is that by eliminating grades, students will become less obsessive over the letter in the grade book and learn better study skills and work ethic. They will begin studying for the sake of learning rather than raising a GPA.

As more universities adopt this system- Wesleyan, Swarthmore, and California Institute of Technology, to name a few- one has to wonder if they will begin implementing “shadow grading” in high schools, especially as increased controversy has surfaced from students on the current school system. Glenbard West junior Kate McGrath says, “Our current school system bases to much on the numerical value of the grade, rather than how much we are actually learning. Many students memorized information for a test for the grade, but immediately forget it as soon as the test is done because the information only has value if there is letter attached to it.” So one has to ask, what learning is actually being done?

Although this system seems liberating, opinions differ when students were asked how they would feel if this system was implemented at West. Emily Gaertner, a Glenbard West junior says, “The system gives a false sense of confidence on materials. By not knowing your rank in the class, you don’t know how much you need to focus on the class or whether it needs to be prioritized.” However, students responded well to the overall goal of the system. Glenbard West junior Bryn Lilly says, “The idea behind the system is good, however the system in which it is implemented is flawed.” When asked what would be a better way to achieve this goal of ‘learning focused education’, Kate McGrath suggested, “finding a way to make the kids want to learn, but giving them a less distressing way of measuring where they are in the class. In other words, putting less emphasis on how to get an A and more focus on making material interesting and teaching so the good grades come naturally.”

It seems as though the “shadow grading” system is developed in order to fix the flaws and focus of our current educational system. However, the solution seems too radically different for students to hop on board with. For Glenbard West students, this system and new set of values reveals the changes needed in our own school system by pinpointing the problems of numerical evaluation.