In his 21 years of teaching, Jesse Stommel says he has never put a grade on a piece of student’s work. As executive director of the journal “Hybrid Pedagogy,” which explores alternatives to traditional assessments, he says using student self-evaluations better takes into consideration all the demands and stresses of their lives when compared to traditional grading.
So it would be reasonable for Stommel to think that when the pandemic forced universities to suddenly finish the term remotely—a time when students needed compassion in grading more than ever—his approach would already be well-suited for the moment.
“What I actually found was I changed my own grading approach significantly in the midst of the pandemic. Students were extraordinarily stressed and being really hard on themselves,” he says of his students at the University of Mary Washington. “It’s not like that comes from just underestimation of their performance or abilities. I think it also has to do with a culture we’ve created in education, particularly higher education, that demands a sense of quote-unquote rigor.”
Universities across the globe adjusted their grading policies to alleviate the heightened stress and sudden loss of support that came with the pandemic. They offered some variation of pass/fail rather than letter grades, with the objective of cushioning the impact on students’ GPA.
By Stommel’s measure, though, these changes didn’t have the impact universities imagined. Bureaucratic hoops and complex language explaining the policies likely kept students who needed the most support from taking advantage of them, he says.
“We need a complete re-imagining of how we grade students,” Stommel says. “Even before, during and after the pandemic, students are struggling with food or housing insecurity, or massive loan debt and can’t afford books. How do we measure that within our approach grades?”