Skip to Main Content

Feedback and Grading: Grading


Grading in higher education serves multiple critical functions, acting as a measure of student learning, a feedback mechanism, and a gatekeeper for academic progression and opportunities beyond university. Traditional grading systems often utilize a scale of letters (A-F) or points to quantify student performance based on their mastery of course content, participation, and other academic activities. These grades are intended to reflect not only a student's understanding and skill in a particular subject but also to provide a metric that can be used by future employers and educational institutions to assess readiness and competence.

However, grading practices in higher education are increasingly under scrutiny due to concerns about their fairness, accuracy, and impact on student motivation and mental health. Critics argue that traditional grading can create excessive competition, pressure, and stress, potentially discouraging learning and creativity. It can also perpetuate inequalities, as not all students may have equal access to resources that enhance learning. As a result, there is a growing movement towards more innovative and holistic approaches, such as standards-based grading, ungrading, or contract grading, which aim to align more closely with educational values and focus on student growth and development rather than mere performance metrics.

Explore the pages in this guide to learn more about alternative approaches to traditional grading.


For instructors interested in making changes to address some of the challenges associated with traditional grading systems, consider the following:

  • Implement Standards-Based Grading (SBG): Transition to standards-based grading where students are evaluated against a clear set of learning objectives rather than on a curve relative to their peers. This approach focuses on mastery of specific skills and knowledge, promoting fairness and clarity in assessment.

  • Adopt Formative Assessment Techniques: Increase the use of formative assessments that provide ongoing feedback during the learning process, rather than summative assessments that evaluate learning at the end of a module or course. This can help students identify their strengths and areas for improvement in a timely manner, fostering a growth mindset.

  • Utilize Ungrading Practices: Experiment with ungrading, where traditional grades are replaced with qualitative feedback, self-assessments, and peer reviews. This can help reduce students' anxiety related to grades and encourage deeper engagement with learning materials.

  • Develop Transparent Grading Rubrics: Create detailed grading rubrics that clearly articulate the criteria for each grade level. This promotes transparency and helps ensure that all students understand the expectations and how they can achieve desired outcomes.

  • Encourage Reflective Practices: Integrate reflective assignments where students analyze their learning process, challenges faced, and strategies for improvement. This not only promotes critical thinking and self-awareness but also helps students take ownership of their learning.

  • Offer Flexible Assessment Options: Provide students with choices in how they demonstrate their understanding and skills. This could include different types of projects, presentations, or written assignments, allowing students to play to their strengths and interests.


Guskey, Thomas R, and Susan M Brookhart, eds. 2019. What We Know About Grading : What Works, What Doesn’t, and What’s Next. Alexandria, VA: ASCD. e-book available

Houk, Dan. 2018, September 20. “Why Are We Still Grading?” Inside Higher Ed.

Louden, Kristy. 2017, June 4. “Delaying the Grade: How to Get Students to Read Feedback.” Cult of Pedagogy.

Nilson, Linda Burzotta, and Claudia J Stanny. 2015. Specifications Grading : Restoring Rigor, Motivating Students, and Saving Faculty Time. Sterling, Virginia: Stylus Publishing. e-book available

Sackstein, Starr. 2015. Hacking Assessment : 10 Ways to Go Gradeless in a Traditional Grades School. Hack Learning Series. Cleveland, OH: Times 10 Publications.

Supiano, Beckie. 2019, July 18. “Grades Can Hinder Learning. What Should Professors Use Instead?” The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Weissman, Sara. 2019, September 27. “How Can Colleges Make Grading More Equitable?” Diverse Issues in Higher Education.


  • URL:
  • Last Updated: May 2, 2024 1:40 PM
  • Print Page