University Professor Goes the Route of ‘Ungrading’ — in Math – Opinion

In 1965, The Beatles sang, “One and one is two.”

Can the song still ring true?

Maybe not — at least where American math tests and our system of grading are concerned.

Grand Valley State University Professor David Clark, who is well-known for his progressive approach to education evolution, has been a part of an educational charge. Via his upper-level Euclidean Geometry course, he’s employed innovation.

David chose a new approach, rather than the traditional one of incorrect answers that would lead to docked points in past times.

According to his article at, the instructor was inspired by Susan D. Blum’s bookHow ungrading students undermines learning

He decided to give it a shot, going “fully gradeless.”

“I gave only feedback on student work,” he writes, “with no grades on any assignment.”

It seems that the problem goes beyond the ability of students to do mathematics to how much they can argue.

It was my intention to ask students how they achieved the success criteria I set out. They would then create a portfolio to show their work and determine what grade it earned.

As described by his Fall 2021 instruction, “A portfolio is a carefully curated collection of work that tells a story.”

Your portfolio is your story as a mathematics student, and a mathematician. It will include everything from the very first day to the last. The goal of your portfolio is to convince others that you are qualified for a grade by the end the semester.

“If you make a convincing case,” he explains, “you’ll earn the grade that you are aiming for!”

In his January 17th essay, he reflects on not penalizing students for their mistakes and rewarding them who are their most loyal advocates.

“Did my students learn?” he asks.

“After teaching at least 12 sections of geometry over the years, this was the best semester of geometry I’ve ever taught,” he reports.

Students showed energy, were interested in learning, had great questions and engaged in incredible collaboration. Students were willing to struggle, fail, reflect, try again and do an incredible job supporting one another.

“In that whole last paragraph,” he points out, “notice that I didn’t say anything about grades. That’s not what mattered.”

He’s certainly not the first to go against traditional grading.

In favor of social justice, we’re on the move:

Excellence is waiting: Professes make their case for ending grades

California University Eyes ‘Radical’ BIPOC Honors Program Based on Equity Instead of Grades

Virginia School District targets Inequity with Shooting at Grades & Deadlines

Professor Razes The Evil of Writing Rules and Whacks White Supremacy By Gonging Grades

Standardization is the enemy

Compared to some grade-defying goings-on, David’s endeavor is mild. What’s the next step? Some may find it sensible to forgo rigidity in subject areas like philosophy. But if math — arguably the most objective of all studies — loses an accuracy-based standard, what will be the result?

It’s not inconceivable that students who’ve rightfully been placed in an advanced geometry class may fare well even if scoring is less stringent.

However, if ungrading receives rave reviews, surely it’ll make its way to the lower levels.

Given the momentum of the moment, as for a description of where we’ll end up, the word “excellence” may not fit the bill.

According to The College Fix, David was contacted by College Fix to find out if he had chosen to ungrade for spring. He didn’t respond.

Meanwhile, Grand Valley State spokesperson Mary Eilleen Lyon says the Michigan school “does not dictate what can and cannot be done in the classroom as long as general guidelines are followed.”

“As long as faculty maintain clear grading policies that are equitable — meaning they distinguish between excellent, fair and poor work — the content of those policies is left up to the faculty member to determine. Dr. Clark’s policies clearly fit this requirement.”

In his piece for EdSurge, David breaks down last semester’s end thusly:

[M]y final grade distribution was heavy with A’s and A-’s, some B’s, and a few C’s. This was slightly higher than previous semesters, the biggest difference being that there were no D’s, F’s, nor withdrawals. The very few students who didn’t get the grade they argued for all earned a higher grade instead (in every case, raising by a step, such as from B to B+). This is a good representation of both what the students learnt and their growth during this semester. After 15 weeks of watching students learn, grow and write, I am certain that nobody would have been given a failing mark.

We’re headed toward a new frontier. The red pen may be unfamiliar to future generations.

If less-pressed American teenagers are not more likely to fail because they can’t figure out that one plus one equals two down the line, there will still be other people who will correct their math. China, it is certain that they will pick up the pace.


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