The first trial run of Wellesley’s shadow grading policy is now officially over. First years may still be taking shadow-graded writing courses, but the winter break and new spring semester have given students and administration time to reflect on the new policy. While shadow grading has the appearance of creating a relaxed academic atmosphere, it instead created a more challenging environment that inspired better academics and a more well-rounded experience at Wellesley.
Shadow grading is a new policy in which first years do not receive letter grades; rather, they either pass or fail their first semester courses. Students and their professors will have a report of the letter grades for each course, but the grades themselves will not be on official transcripts and are not be released outside of the College.
I spent my high school years pursuing vigorous academic and extracurricular work. My dedication to academics and extracurricular work allowed me to develop a strong work ethic, which then helped bring me to Wellesley. Another undeniable reason I was admitted into a top school such as Wellesley was my ability to maintain a somewhat high GPA. I brought this diligent work ethic to Wellesley along with my knowledge of how important a GPA can be in applications.
Unfortunately, it often feels a significant amount of time spent at college is dedicated to achieving a high GPA for jobs and beyond. Therefore, shadow grading allowed me an opportunity to push myself both academically and socially in a much different way than I could before. My first experiences at Wellesley were not ones concentrated on GPAs, but rather, true learning.
In high school, I struggled in physics, but college is the time to build a foundation of how the world functions , including science. Therefore, shadow grading provided me the freedom to enroll in an introductory physics class and struggle a bit. Ultimately, as I suspected, physics was still challenging, and it is not likely that I will pursue a degree in science. However, this shadow grading policy is the one and only reason I even explored the realm of science.
This encouragement to take classes beyond one’s academic comfort zone is what liberal arts colleges are all about. It is this motivation that often helps students discover previously unventured territory to find a subject they love.
The relaxed form of grading did allow some students to push themselves to the limit and take a more daring course load. It was due to shadow grading that I took my hardest class, physics, in part, along with my desire to understand the laws of physics, to fulfill initially daunting distribution requirements. This was in addition to other challenging classes I took, such as my critical interpretation writing course, and extracurriculars. As a result of this workload, at times I felt I struggled to keep up at a normal academic speed, and in a few instances did not truly understand the material in class. However, I think that this drawback definitely allowed other ways of academic learning to flourish.
The lessened pressure of assigning a letter to my time and efforts in a class allowed me to focus instead on understanding class material, as opposed to doing whatever I thought might earn me a better grade. For example, in my environmental science class we were learning about climate change and how it relates to food sustainability.
As with any other course, there are mandatory and extra readings along with assignments. However, knowing that I had shadow grading prompted me to spend one Sunday in New York City at the People’s Climate Change March. I usually would not have spent a Sunday on four hour bus rides to and from New York, but instead reading some extra articles that would most likely garner a stronger letter grade. However, I experienced the climate change movement in the flesh. I met many activists’ groups pushing for veganism, and I could draw on their ideas of how food sustainability factor into climate change. I could then understand my class material in a larger world context and have a better idea of how to be part of the social climate change movement. Due to shadow grading, I could focus on taking risks that promoted the art of learning.
One issue many have with shadow grading is that the relaxed policy potentially allowed students to slack off and therefore not fully understand Wellesley’s academic standards. However, shadow grading allowed me to explore and understand that academic standards are more easily met and even surpassed if pursued through a creative and engaged lens. My academic work during shadow grading has only taught me how to learn and earn strong marks even within the realm of letter-grading.
Shadow grading has allowed me to deepen not only my intellectual engagement but also my social engagement within and outside Wellesley. The quantification of letter grades really only emerges in the larger discussion of transcripts and GPAs.
This pressure to attain a certain number was lifted in the first semester.
Without the need to quantify my learning, I expanded my introverted tendencies and sometimes strained academic effort and pushed myself to be more social. Therefore, I ventured outside my new home in
Cazenove Hall and interacted with students in and outside of Wellesley, such as in the
Climate Change March, but also in other dorms and around the Boston area. As a result, I have met amazing people who inspire me to take academic leaps and be an even more engaged student, better team player and friend.
Shadow grading also further gave me the fortification and time to try out an array of extracurriculars. I tried Ultimate Frisbee, the Photography Club, Chinese Students’ Association, and many more. Even though I did not stick with most of them, it pushed me to be part of The Wellesley News, evidenced by this article. As one of the first year guinea pigs, I feel I have squeezed almost all the juice I could from this policy and had an academically and socially experimental, successful first semester.