Last year I was part of an informal faculty group interested in learning more about alternative assessment models. We consulted various resources but started with the book, Ungrading: Why Rating Students Undermines Learning then we redesigned our fall 2021 course(s) to integrate non-traditional assessment models such as labor-based, opt-in or speculative grading.

For ARGD 3060 Type & Image, a junior-level major course, I admit to #syllabusbloat, as it took quite a few additional pages to detail the system but the basics were:

  • exercises and projects were all graded either (S Satisfactory (meets expectations & requirements) or (U) Unsatisfactory (does not meet expectations & requirements)
  • students needed to achieve a certain # of (S) grades to earn an A-, A-, B+, etc. Grades of S+ or S- might also be given for particular exercises but they were intended to communicate to students where their work ranked related to expectations but ultimately had the same value as as S.
  • a token system allowed students to “purchase” favors like late assignment submissions, the ability to resubmit assignments for reconsideration that had been previously deemed unsatisfactory, or even additional absences.

Although I made a long list to tweak and change for next time, I will definitely use this approach again, as I found the time spend grading far more rewarding and less stressful since the focus was on the feedback, as it should be.


These efforts stemmed from both frustration with grade inflation compression (inflation has been a thing for a long while, and it’s rampant .. the inflation eventually causes compression at the top so is mimimal differentiation between levels since there’s no AAA or A—-, for example) and increasing student anxiety about grade achievement over learning. The high costs of even public higher education is certainly a factor then in states like Georgia that fund education broadly through lottery scholarships there is pressure to keep one’s grades high enough to keep the funding: In the case of the HOPE scholarships  (which most all UGA students have), to maintain funding the students have to have have a 3.0–3.3 GPA (similar to the GPA required for initial receipt of the scholarships in high school). Zell Miller scholarship recipients (the highest level of HOPE providing 100% funding) must maintain a 3.30 GPA which is only slightly below the cum laude graduate honor designation. (I noticed that the cum laude honor designation was raised from 3.5 to 3.6 in 2018 likely because such a high percentage of students were achieving the honor and diluting the specialness).

This means that a C grade is definitly no longer average since a grade (average) below B+ means losing essential scholarship funding and for many students the financial impact would be life-changing. Bs and B+s elicits tears. So…. A- is the new C?

Of course, grades ultimately have little impact in creative fields like graphic design since it’s the portfolio that matters, but it’s challenging to convince students of this truth after so much grade programming in K-12.

 Image by DALL-E.