St. Louis County School Phases Out Letter Grading In Favor of Competency-Based Approach

Hancock High School in St. Louis County has recently implemented a game-changing approach to assess students’ achievements, deviating from the traditional grading system.

Instead of using letter grades or percentages to represent students’ performance in different subjects and courses, they have adopted a more innovative method, as reported by the local news outlet, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Students will now be evaluated based on their engagements, work habits, and academics, following a cycle of feedback, revision, and reflection, the school’s principal, David Williams, told the news outlet.

The assessment approach will rank students on a 4.0 scale, with the primary metrics being beginning, progressing, proficient, and advanced. This approach will thereby reduce the stigma of “bad” grades and allow students and their parents or guardians to better understand their position on the learning spectrum.

The Burden Of Proof Is On Students 

With the new grading system, students must demonstrate they have learned and mastered the required skills to be considered for graduation.

Additionally, the students will perform a daily self-assessment to identify what they have learned and still need to work on. They meet an advisor in small groups every Monday morning before commencing the week’s learning activities to discuss their upcoming week.

Students will also attend a 45-minute-long “targeted learning time” daily, where they can receive the extra support or enrichment they need in different subjects, helping them improve their performance.

Game-Changing Approach To Discipline 

Commonly implemented in New England, this innovative learning approach has had a profound impact on the teaching and learning policy of the school.

Under this system, the traditional disciplinary measures have been replaced with a restorative model that emphasizes community service and reflection.

Students who break the school rules and code of conduct can be sent to mop floors instead of kicking them out of classes. This has cut disciplinary actions by half and tardies down by 60%, nearly two-thirds of what was witnessed in the school before the transition to the new grading philosophy.

The approach has also helped alleviate student fights, common before Principal Williams took over as the school head, prompting parents and teachers to call for change.

When William joined the school in the fall, more than half of the junior students were already on a path to miss graduation, a problem that the new learning philosophy has permanently resolved.

According to the principal, the goal of the transition is to support continuous learning, or what he termed a “grit and growth mindset,” empowering students to succeed.

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Fostering A Wave Of Positivity

Brooke Barfield, a teacher of English at the school for the past 21 years, told the local news outlet that the new approach has made him think more about what he wants his students to get rather than what he wants them to do.  

“Every little thing is progress, as opposed to making them feel like a number,” said Barfield, adding that the new approach has “bred a lot of positivity” in the school. “Maybe we’re not the best, but we’re getting better.”

The school has also included activities such as team building to help students bond more with each other and make learning more attractive to students.

On Monday, a class of 100 freshmen went for a team-building exercise at the Beaumont Scout Reservation in High Ridge, with the main activities being rock climbing and archery.

Hancock High School joins hundreds of other schools that have phased out the traditional letter grading across the country, completely changing how teachers and students view academic performance.


This article has been produced by TPR Teaching.

Caitriona Maria is an education writer and founder of TPR Teaching, crafting inspiring pieces that promote the importance of developing new skills. For 7 years, she has been committed to providing students with the best learning opportunities possible, both domestically and abroad. Dedicated to unlocking students' potential, Caitriona has taught English in several countries and continues to explore new cultures through her travels.

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