Students may learn better without letter grades

Ashley Lamb-Sinclair, a teacher in a Kentucky high school, stopped assigning grades to her students' work for six weeks.

Contrary to what some may expect, Lamb-Sinclair found that students and parents were even more engaged than before the change. She wrote about her experience banishing letter grades in a recent article for The Atlantic.

Lamb-Sinclair writes that she based her decision on several recent studies about the harmful effects of letter grades on students' self-reflection, interest in learning, and self-esteem.

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During the six weeks without grades, she shares that students were more engaged in learning for its own sake, rather than calculating the value of every assignment to their final grade. She also noticed that students were more willing to be creative and take risks because they weren't afraid of low grades.

In addition, Lamb-Sinclair writes that the new practice changed her conversations with parents. Whereas previously they tended to see only the letter grade, now she shares that she was able to discuss the context and nuances of how their children performed in the classroom. "My sole focus became the learning of each student and sharing my observations of that learning in the moment," she writes.

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Lamb-Sinclair did not share whether she plans to do another no-grades period in the future. It would be difficult to implement all the time, she writes, because employers and colleges still care about grades. But, she writes, she does continue to believe that students benefit from a classroom environment where they learn to love learning, not just learning how to get a good grade (Donachie, Education Dive, 6/19; Lamb-Sinclair, The Atlantic, 6/16).

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