Reduce Student Failure Rates with Alternative Student Assessment

High School teacher doing alternative student assessment with female student

As educators, we stand at the crossroads of a long-standing debate: the merits of grading versus assessment in the classroom.

This blog post will peel back the layers of this discussion, revealing the intricacies of traditional letter grades and the emerging landscape of alternative student evaluations. With the primary aim to enhance student learning and success, we’ll delve into how each approach shapes educational experiences, influences teacher decision-making, and impacts educational outcomes.

From the simplicity of A’s and B’s to the nuanced feedback of portfolio reviews, the methods we employ to gauge student progress are as varied as they are controversial. If you have a goal to reduce student failure rates in your school, you need to be prepared to challenge prevailing grading practices and explore new ways of assessing your student’s mastery of the subject matter.

Together, we’ll explore the pros and cons of letter grades and their alternatives, examine how these practices measure student learning and progress, and offer practical suggestions for educators looking to refine their evaluation strategies—all through the lens of Strobel Education’s expertise and commitment to empowering teachers and students alike.

Grading vs. Assessment

student Grading vs. Assessment in education

Grading in education traditionally refers to the process of assigning a letter or number to represent a student’s performance, usually on an A-F or 0-100% scale. The practice dates back to the 19th century and has become a deeply ingrained aspect of academic culture, serving as a quick reference to gauge achievement and proficiency.

Assessment, on the other hand, encompasses a broader range of tools and methods designed to evaluate a student’s learning, skills, abilities, and educational needs. Distinct from grading, assessment aims to provide detailed feedback on the learning process, identify areas for improvement, and guide future instruction.

In educational settings, both grading and assessment play crucial roles; grading often summarizes achievement, while assessment seeks to deepen understanding and support ongoing learning.

The Pro's and Con's of the Traditional Letter Grade System

As mentioned above, grading, as traditionally practiced in education, involves assigning a letter grade to represent a student’s performance in a particular subject or activity. It is a deeply entrenched method of evaluation that has been used for generations to summarize academic accomplishment and communicate progress to students, parents, and other stakeholders.


The simplicity and widespread understanding of letter grades are among their primary advantages. They provide a quick and easily interpretable indicator of a student’s academic standing, which can be essential for making decisions related to student advancement, graduation, and college admissions.

Furthermore, letter grades are often seen as a universal language in education, allowing for a consistent measure of performance across different schools and educational systems.


Despite their ubiquity, letter grades carry significant disadvantages. They can reduce a student’s multifaceted learning experiences to a single, simplistic metric, potentially overlooking the nuances of their skills and understanding.

Letter grades may also contribute to high levels of stress among students, as the pressure to achieve top marks can overshadow the intrinsic value of learning and discourage risk-taking. Moreover, this focus on grades can lead to a competitive environment where the true goal of education—learning and intellectual growth—is sometimes lost.

3 Forms of Student Evaluation

Students in class doing peer review of assignment

Alternative forms of student evaluation have emerged as educators seek to provide a more holistic picture of student learning and development. These methods are designed to capture a wider range of student abilities and efforts beyond what traditional letter grades can convey.

Below are 3 ways to perform student evaluation:

  • Formative assessments are ongoing evaluations used to monitor student learning and understanding during the instructional process. They provide valuable feedback to both teachers and students, helping to identify areas of strength and areas needing improvement. Formative assessments can take various forms, such as quizzes, discussions, observations, and peer/self-assessments.
  • Informal assessments are flexible and spontaneous evaluations that provide insight into student understanding and progress through methods such as class discussions, quick quizzes, and observations.
  • Student-generated assessments involve students in the process of creating their own evaluation tools, such as self-assessments or student-led projects, allowing them to take ownership of their learning and showcase their understanding in unique and personalized ways.
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The Pro's and Con's of Alternative Student Evaluation Assessments

Grading and assessment each serve different purposes when it comes to measuring student learning and progress. Traditional grading often quantifies achievement with a letter or number, providing a summary judgment of a student’s performance at a moment in time. This method, while easily quantifiable, may not capture the full scope of a student’s understanding or the progress they have made throughout a course. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of using alternative student evaluation methods.


The advantages of these alternative assessments are numerous. Alternative assessments give students a more comprehensive understanding of their strengths and areas for growth, providing them with the motivation to continue learning and improving. This form of evaluation also promotes the development of critical life skills such as self-assessment, communication, and the ability to receive and implement constructive feedback.

Moreover, alternative assessments can be more inclusive, accommodating diverse learning styles and giving students multiple ways to demonstrate their knowledge and skills. However, these methods are not without challenges.

Assessment encompasses a broader range of tools and strategies designed to evaluate not just the end result, but the learning process itself. It can be tailored to align with individual learning goals and styles, offering a more personalized reflection of a student’s journey. In addition to quantifying student achievement, assessment practices can encourage reflection and self-awareness while promoting long-term growth. This approach encourages active engagement, as students can see the tangible results of their efforts and become more involved in their own educational growth.


Implementing alternative assessments can be time-consuming for educators, requiring significant planning, monitoring, and feedback. Additionally, there can be concerns about the subjective nature of some alternative assessments, which may lead to inconsistencies in how student achievements are measured and reported.

The Impact on Teacher Decision-Making

Grading and assessment have significant influence on teacher decision-making, shaping the strategies they employ in the classroom and guiding the trajectory of their curriculum planning.

When grading is the primary focus, teachers may feel compelled to design lessons that lead to higher grades rather than deeper understanding, potentially prioritizing test preparation over exploration and critical thinking. Conversely, when comprehensive assessments are utilized, educators can gain a holistic understanding of a student’s progress and needs, allowing them to adjust instruction to better support individual learning.

The potential for bias in grading is a notable concern, with subjective judgments possibly affecting the fairness and accuracy of grades. This contrasts with more comprehensive assessment approaches that strive for objectivity by using multiple evaluation methods to gain a broader perspective on student learning.

Continuous assessment, a practice where educators consistently evaluate student performance throughout the learning process, plays a pivotal role in enabling real-time instructional adjustments. These adjustments can be better informed and more responsive to student needs, leading to a more personalized and effective educational experience.

Educational Outcomes and Future Implications

The differences between traditional grading and alternative assessments have significant implications for educational outcomes.

Grades, often considered to be reliable indicators of academic achievement and potential, can have far-reaching consequences for a student’s future opportunities. For some students who excel in traditional grading systems, it may open doors to colleges and career prospects that would otherwise remain closed. On the other hand, comprehensive assessments aim to create a more equitable learning environment by considering diverse learning styles and intelligences. This approach has the potential to foster a more inclusive education system where all students have the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in various ways.

Changes in evaluation methods could also have profound effects on higher education and workplace readiness.

As colleges and employers increasingly recognize the value of skills such as critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration, the reliance on letter grades alone may not suffice. Consequently, there’s a growing consideration for assessment methods that better prepare students for the demands of the modern world.

In this context, educational institutions and policymakers are challenged to consider how assessment practices can evolve to ensure students are not only academically competent but also equipped with the necessary skills to thrive in their future careers.

Practical Implementation Suggestions for Educators

Elementary schoolboy raising hand while sitting ini classroom.

Educators can enhance their grading and assessment practices by integrating a variety of evaluation methods that cater to diverse student needs.

To begin, teachers might consider combining traditional letter grades with narrative feedback to provide context for the grade, helping students understand their strengths and areas for improvement. Narrative feedback offers in-depth, personalized comments on students’ work. For example, alongside a letter grade, a teacher could include comments that highlight specific achievements and offer constructive guidance on how to tackle challenging areas.

Additionally, educators should explore the use of formative assessments, such as quizzes, discussions, and in-class activities that allow for frequent check-ins on student understanding. These can serve as informative tools for both the student and the educator to gauge progress and adjust teaching methods accordingly.

Incorporating self-assessments can also empower students to take an active role in their own learning process, fostering a deeper sense of accountability and engagement. Peer review, on the other hand, encourages collaborative learning and critical thinking, as students engage in evaluating each other’s work, providing a unique perspective that can complement the teacher’s assessment.

Offering student centered or student generated assessment opportunities are another idea. For example, having the students compile their body of work in the form of a portfolio to demonstrate their learning journey and mastery over time.

For a more holistic approach, educators can implement project-based learning which allows students to demonstrate their knowledge through creative and practical applications. This method not only assesses student understanding but also develops essential skills such as problem-solving, collaboration, and critical thinking.

Strobel Education's Perspective on Traditional Grading

Providing professional development opportunities for educators to learn about innovative assessment techniques is crucial for keeping teaching practices current and effective.

Strobel Education champions a balanced approach to student evaluation, advocating for the integration of both grading and assessment to enrich learning experiences.

Recognizing the challenges and limitations of traditional letter grades, Strobel Education encourages educators to complement them with robust assessment methods that provide deeper insights into student understanding and progress. Strobel is a firm believer that student learning and grades should be based on mastery towards certain concepts or skills. This is where standards-based grading comes in.

Standards-based grading provides explanations of the concepts and materials that students should know at certain points of education, also known as learning targets. Strobel’s standards-based grading offerings help teachers learn how they can transform the way they teach to provide instruction based on how well their students are developing mastery of specific learning targets. Teachers will also learn about an alternative grading scale where grades are in direct proportion to the level of performance that a student is demonstrating on their way to mastery. Watch the video below to learn more about Strobel Education’s perspective on standards-based grading.

Play Video about Standards-Based Grading Video Thumbnail

All of these practices align with our mission to nurture student growth through innovative teaching strategies and continuous professional development.

Our professional development services are designed to equip educators with the tools and knowledge necessary to implement nuanced assessment strategies effectively.

Through workshops, on-site training, and online courses, we aim to transform classrooms into environments where evaluation supports learning rather than merely measuring it.

Encouraging a Shift in Evaluation Mindset

Grading and assessment practices are deeply embedded in educational systems, but a cultural shift towards a focus on learning rather than just grading is critical for the development of more effective teaching and evaluation methods.

This shift requires educators to embrace a mindset that values growth, feedback, and continuous improvement over static snapshots of performance. To make this mindset shift possible, educators must be supported by schools and districts that prioritize professional development in assessment practices.

Schools can create a collaborative culture of continuous learning that prioritizes the adoption of best practices rather than maintaining traditional evaluation methods solely to retain familiar approaches.

Advocating for a collaborative approach to rethinking evaluation methods is essential. It involves inviting input from all stakeholders in the educational community, including students, parents, and other educators.

This collective reimagining of assessment strategies ensures that diverse perspectives and needs are considered, making the move towards comprehensive assessment more inclusive and equitable. Teachers are encouraged to lead the way in this transformative process, fostering a dialogue that emphasizes the long-term benefits of holistic student evaluation, such as deeper understanding, critical thinking skills, and a more personalized educational experience.

Revolutionize Your Approach to Student Evaluation

Happy pupils embracing teacher in front of blackboard in classroom

As we navigate the complexities of grading and assessment, it’s clear that our ultimate goal is to enhance student learning and success. Shifting our evaluation mindset to prioritize comprehensive understanding over simple metrics can lead to more motivated students and insightful teaching strategies.

Strobel Education is committed to providing professional development that empowers educators to implement innovative and effective evaluation techniques. Our professional development opportunities are designed to inspire and equip you with the tools needed for this significant transformation.

Explore Strobel Education’s student-based grading offerings and discover how we can support you in creating a more meaningful and impactful educational experience for your learners. Together, we can shape a future where every assessment advances a child’s journey towards knowledge and growth.

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