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Wellesley Initiates New Grading Policy for First Year Students

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Beginning fall semester 2014, with the newly admitted class of 2018, Wellesley first-year students will have a new way of measuring their progress through their first semester of classes with the shadow grading policy.

In December 2013, the College’s Academic Council voted to approve the shadow grading policy for first-year students for an initial period of four years, followed by evaluation. These students will receive pass/no pass grades in all of their courses for the first semester of their first year. The students themselves will be given a report of the letter grades that they would have received—"shadow grades"—but these will not appear on their official transcripts and will not be released outside the College.

This policy provides first-year students with the opportunity to learn about the standards for academic achievement at Wellesley and to assess the quality of their work in relation to these standards. It further enables them to use their first semester to focus on intellectual engagement and inspiration and to learn how to grow as a learner in college.

Sound liberating? That’s the idea. “When grades become the object of learning rather than learning itself, students are engaged in a form of goal displacement,” Professor of Sociology Lee Cuba told Wellesley magazine in a feature for the 2014 Winter issue (“High Marks for No Marks,” p. 6). As the article reported, Cuba’s longitudinal study of students at Wellesley and six other New England colleges found that academic achievement and engagement are negatively correlated—i.e., the more time students spend thinking about getting an A, the less time they’re spending thinking about what they’re really learning. The research of Cuba and his colleagues has informed Wellesley’s new shadow grading policy, as the College joins other institutions such as MIT and Swarthmore College who have similar practices.

Interested? Learn more about shadow grading, read the full policy, and explore frequently asked questions.

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