The ungraded classroom is more beneficial to students’ learning

By Emma Forshee

A simple internet search will lead to this definition of an ungraded classroom: “a [classroom] that does not formally organize students according to…grade levels.” 

However, the ungraded classroom is so much more than a simple, unfeeling definition. To many teachers and students alike, the ungraded classroom presents opportunities for extended growth, intellectually and emotionally. 

The ungraded classroom is structured so that each assignment is assigned a letter grade immediately. For English teacher Katie Bills-Tenney, that means putting every grade in the grade book as a 100% formative assessment with copious feedback provided in Progress Book and Google Classroom comments. Students have deadlines and revision due dates they must meet in order to stay afloat in the class. 

Assignments turned in past their due date do not have points taken off, but are, as Bills-Tenney says, “like expired milk.” Assignments done after their due date are no longer as beneficial to the student as they would have been if they were done on time. 

But, here’s the catch: at the end of every quarter, students are required to look back on their past assignments, writing, and overall work ethic to determine if they are in line with the state’s requirements. Based on this reflective assessment, they meet with their teacher to propose the overall grade they think they should receive for the class. Ultimately, the teacher decides the final grade. 

“The ungraded classroom is a combination of three things,” Bills-Tenney said. “Goal setting, feedback, and measuring growth.” Students are expected to set goals for themselves to meet the standards set by the state, and teachers, like Bills-Tenney, make goals to ensure that the students grow and develop. 

The ungraded classroom is meant to accomplish two main goals: to create a space where students can create quality work without the threat of a bad or mediocre grade hanging over their heads, and to debunk the idea that grades are part of a student’s identity as a whole. 

“The ungraded classroom takes some of the pressure off, because students get so focused on letters and numbers that it becomes their identity,” Bills-Tenney said. “If they receive anything other than their identified letter or number, they shut down, and a brain that is shut down is a brain that is not working.” 

Students who have experienced the ungraded classroom, specifically with Bills-Tenney, agree that, without the pressure of working for a good grade, academic growth is inevitable. 

“It made me feel like I didn’t have to just memorize stuff for a grade,” Acey Faulkner, a Bellbrook senior, said. “I actually learned what I needed to know.” Bills-Tenney asks students to regularly make choices based on feedback of where they need to practice various skills that are assessed on the end-of-the-year national AP exam.

Students like Faulkner who have been a part of an ungraded classroom feel that the retention of information is much better in that setting than in a normal classroom. However, this classroom structure is not for every student or subject. 

“I think it’s great to have a focus on learning rather than a hyper-focus on grades,” Jeff Sampson, a Bellbrook High School math teacher, said. “But for a subject like math, it’s hard to set individualized goals. You can’t really deviate from the state standards too much.”

In addition, both Bills-Tenney and Sampson agree that the ungraded classroom structure would work better with students who are driven to succeed. Bills-Tenney only uses this classroom structure with her AP students primarily because it’s a writing-focused course where revision is part of the process of building the skill, and Sampson has not implemented it in any of his classes. 

Nevertheless, the ungraded classroom has still been proven to be extremely beneficial to many students. 

“It really helped me understand what I was learning,” Faulkner said. “Now, I feel like I actually remember what I learned. The ungraded classroom has really helped me to learn overall.” 


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