Equitable Grading: Why we Need to Rethink Grading at Schools

August 28, 2023 | By: Extramarks

School Grading

A hallmark of a high-quality academic institution is that it is equitable across every element of its framework – instruction, discipline, curriculum, assessment and culture. Effective grading practices form a key component of a school’s equitable nature that hold the power to truly encourage and motivate students to learn. 

As a teacher, you may have come across multiple theories regarding which approach works best for testing students’ abilities efficiently. However, instead of evaluating the theories themselves, the key is to take a step back and consider if your goals of evaluation are aligned with the overall goals of education. This is particularly important as there are higher chances of grades being subjective and biased if clear criteria are not put in place. Reflecting on this can be your first step towards developing a fair and meaningful grading system. 

In this blog, we cover the characteristics of equitable grades, key strategies to implement equitable grading practices and how it can enhance the quality of your assessments.  

What is Equitable Grading? 

Equitable grading is an effective strategy that is proven to enhance students’ learning experience and minimize assessment biases. It typically reflects students’ mastery of skills and knowledge based on  intended learning outcomes. Ideally, grades should be considered as a tool for feedback rather than just a reflection of students’ performance. When we speak of equitable grades, it should be based on students’ command of learning material, without considering other factors such as homework, assignments, extracurriculars or soft skills like punctuality or good attendance. The grade here should only be reflective of content mastery.  

Most teachers have never had the opportunity to think critically about grading and hardly  receive any training support to learn the best grading practices. Instead, inherited grading structures and patterns from over the years are carried forward and expected to work when applied to today’s new-age learning environment. But, we can reimagine grading. By implementing research-based practices that align with an institution’s commitment to equity, we can create an objective learning environment that gives every student an equal chance to academic excellence. 

According to Joe Feldman, professor, CEO of Crescendo Education Group and author of ‘Grading for equity’, these are the three pillars of equitable grading practices: 

#Pillar 1: Accurate 

The grades are mathematically accurate and reflect students’ academic performance, not behaviors. 

#Pillar 2: Bias-resistant

The grades counteract institutional biases and prevent any subjectivity from impacting how grades are calculated. Essentially, the end result does not reward students with privilege or penalize students without privilege. 

#Pillar 3: Intrinsic motivation 

Equitable grades encourage students to gain lifelong skills and achieve authentic learning through self-regulation practices. 

6 Essential Characteristics of Equitable Grades

Benefits Grading

It is important to first understand what makes grading equitable before introducing any changes to existing practices. A simple way to differentiate equitable grading from conventional grading systems is that the former focuses on the process of learning rather than performance outcomes. This approach empowers students and motivates them by offering opportunities for autonomy and self-regulation of learning. 

Here are the 6 key characteristics of equitable grading practices that teachers should know about: 

1. Aligns with course goals and objectives 

Equitable grading involves criterion-based systems that are based on a defined grading criteria as opposed to non-referenced grading where student performances are often compared. This means equitable assessments directly align with course goals and learning objectives. 

2. Embraces student diversity and interests 

These grading practices recognize that students have varying social identities, experiences and backgrounds. Equitable grading measures respect student diversity and unique student interests. They seek to meet students where they are and eliminate any impending barriers to learning. 

3. Incorporates flexibility 

Grading with equity provides students with the freedom to demonstrate their proficiency in learning objectives. For example, students could be given a choice to create a learning plan to showcase their knowledge and takeaways from a specific course module. 

4. Monitors progress 

Equitable grading practices are essentially progress indicators that help both students and teachers track if the learning outcomes have been met with. It gives students the opportunity to self-assess, self-regulate and take actionable steps towards their learning goals. 

5. Provides timely feedback 

Using equitable grading, teachers can create a feedback loop that moves beyond just scoring assignments. This feedback is specific, meaningful, personalized and timely. It allows students to reflect on or revise their work and monitor learnings.  

6. Allows multiple attempts 

Assessments should always allow for revisions or resubmissions and should never be a one and done deal. Equitable grading recognizes this and offers a supportive learning environment where students are given multiple opportunities in the form of reattempts to showcase their achievements. 

How Can Teachers Implement Equitable Grading Practices

A growing number of educational institutions today are implementing effective grading practices that are more versatile, bias-resistant, accurate and motivate students to learn better. It is important for teachers to play a proactive role in setting the right grading measures based on measurable course goals and learning objectives. 

To effectively enhance the equity of your assessments and grading practices, here are 5 key strategies to bear in mind: 

1. Grading for completeness v/s correctness

An active learning environment is a key need for students in order to initiate equitable assessments and grading. Students are generally tested using formative assessments where they are awarded points for correct answers and get negative marking for incorrect responses. This reinforces students’ dependence on extrinsic motivators. 

Instead, teachers should consider offering feedback on incorrect answers and distribute marks based on completeness to enhance the equity of formative assessments. For instance, in case you’re conducting a brainstorming activity in class that carries points, give points for student responses irrespective of ‘objectivity’ or correctness. Instead, focus your grading on providing accurate feedback that builds intrinsic motivation in students.  

2. Support executive function skills 

Executive functions refer to the mental processes that primarily control goal-oriented behaviors of students. These skills include organizing tasks, paying attention, solving problems, managing time and regulating emotions. Teachers can create a list of criteria they will base their grading upon and share this with students. This will allow students to better understand the expectation of the assignments and therefore perform well. 

3. Offer multiple forms of feedback 

Teachers who use equitable grading practices are aware that providing various forms of feedback is a key component for driving student success. A few different types of feedback you may include are peer reviews, self-evaluation, group feedback, class feedback and personalized feedback. After receiving feedback, students may also indulge in discussions with the teachers regarding how they can attain their learning goals or take actionable steps to improve their performance. 

4. Incorporate personal learning goals 

Setting personal learning goals will motivate students to take ownership of their learning and enhance their ability to attain goals through definitive action. Teachers can support personalized learning goals by implementing equitable grading systems like specifications grading- an assessment tool where students define what grade they want and complete course modules that correspond to that grade. This will encourage students to reflect on their learning progress and set actionable steps to achieve their goals. 

5. Re-assessing without penalty 

Equitable grading practices should enable students to revise or resubmit assignments or any coursework without penalty. Teachers should provide tailored feedback to aid students in understanding their scope of improvement and where they can make changes. Students can receive this feedback and tailor their performance without being too worried or stressed about their grades. In case of larger classrooms, teachers may limit the number of resubmissions to one or two assessments to ensure that grading is manageable for them. 

How Extramarks Simplifies The Grading Process 

The Teaching App by Extramarks offers end-to-end solutions to track and analyze students’ performance. Get access to Artificial Intelligence (AI)-backed reports, personalized performance reports and automated evaluations, all within a single application. Teachers can assign tests, chat with students regarding any doubts and even send real-time polls to evaluate student progress. 

They also get to experience the power of instant online and offline test grading as soon students submit their work. Moreover, an analytics framework based on Bloom’s Taxonomy  automatically identifies students’ weak areas which helps them focus on topics that require improvement. Get access to detailed insights on students’ performance by tracking every test, assignment and quiz and experience equitable grading practices in action with the Extramarks Teaching App.

It is important for school leaders to recognize the challenges that are associated with traditional grading practices and view grading through a new lens. They should reinforce new grading practices and policies that challenge biases and focus on growth. If equity is a priority for schools, the way grading takes place should be equitable too. If you’d like to experience how equitable grading works, check out the Extramarks Teaching App.   

Last Updated on August 29, 2023

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