Shadow Grading

Student holding pencil

Shadow Grading at Wellesley

In the fall of 2015, Wellesley proudly introduced a policy that further enables first-year students to make a strong start in their intellectual journey at the College.

What is Shadow Grading?

Shadow grading means that, as a first-semester student, letter grades you receive will not be recorded on your transcript and will not ever be released outside the College. Your work will, in fact, be graded, and these grades will be shared with you and your advisors. These shadow grades will provide first-year students with the opportunity to learn about the standards for academic achievement at the College and to assess the quality of their work in relation to those standards. We hope this will encourage you to use the first semester to explore new subjects and to learn more about how you can grow as a learner in college.  See Wellesley's Shadow Grading Policy.

"There's some evidence that first-semester grades are related to the quality of high school. The shadow-grading policy will give all students a period of time to understand and adjust to Wellesley's academic standards." — Professor Lee Cuba

Shadow grading was adopted by the Wellesley faculty in a process of deliberation that identified the following benefits:

Benefits of Shadow Grading

Shadow grading reflects Wellesley’s commitment to the core elements of a liberal arts education.
The strength of a liberal arts education is in the development of intellectual skills and habits that allow students to engage a wide-ranging curriculum while they are here and a complicated and rapidly changing world when they leave. At Wellesley, our first-year curriculum is focused on building skills, introducing new areas of study, and encouraging exploration of new and unfamiliar academic subjects through first-year seminars, a required first-year writing course, and a program in quantitative reasoning. Shadow grading allows students and their teachers to focus on progress toward those goals and not just on how many of them are met by semester's end.

We refocus attention from grades to intellectual engagement and inspiration.
The process of preparing for and applying to college sends the message to high school students that grades are all that matter, and that only “A” grades are good grades. The transition to college marks a time when students can broaden their definition of academic success to include intellectual engagement, inspiration, and risk-taking; experience the joy of discovery and challenging oneself; and forge meaningful intellectual relationships with faculty. Wellesley is committed to providing the framework for students to make such a transition, and shadow grades provide a clear statement that college is different from high school.

We help all students learn to manage their time and balance their academic and extracurricular interests and commitments.
The overall transition from the highly structured and supervised environment of high school to the more independent and self-managed work environment at college is challenging for most new students. They are confronted with many smaller transitions, sets of choices, and time management decisions. Shadow grading first semester will better enable first-year students to focus on adjusting to their new environment, making thoughtful decisions, and creating a complementary balance within their academic commitments and social activities.

Shadow grading is consistent with Wellesley’s current practices of teaching and grading differently in the first year. Courses with a credit/non grading structure are already a significant part of the first-year curriculum, and the popularity of this option among faculty has grown, reflecting a uniformly positive experience with it. It allows instructors to meet students where they are and develop individual learning objectives and to refocus the conversation about student performance away from "How do I get an A?" toward "How do I improve my skills and knowledge?"