Our grading practices have remained practically unchanged for more than 100 years. As a young grad student, I read Punishment by Rewards by Alfie Kohn (1995) and more recently, Grading for Equity by Joe Feldman (2019). Fair and equitable grading has been a concern for years. The historical context of our current 0-100, A-F, grading scales find their origins in the beliefs of the Industrial Revolution: 1) everything can be measured to maximize efficiency, 2) intelligence is fixed, and 3) extrinsic motivation effectively changes behavior. At the time, schools sorted students into two groups; those that are college bound and those that will enter the workforce and the A-F bell curve assisted in the sorting. The system was based on points and students quickly learned to play the point game. They still do.
The grades may not effectively portray a student’s mastery of the content. Parents may be unintentionally deceived about their child’s capabilities. Teachers may be led astray thinking that too many A’s goes against the traditional bell curve. Students may be more concerned about their grades than the learning.
Today, the California State Standards drive our instruction, our beliefs have changed, and we are coming out of a global pandemic. We know from Carol Dweck that our minds are malleable and dynamic. From Daniel Pink, we know that intrinsic motivation works. And from personal experience, grading during the pandemic, a shift in grading is vital for academic success.
In order to attain equity in grading, grades must reflect accuracy, be bias-resistant, and motivating. Accurate grades come from evidence of learning. Through feedback conversations, providing clear success criteria, and grading summatively, grades will reflect learning rather than a mere accumulation of points. Bias-resistant grading eliminates grades for participation, timing of work turned in, considers environmental factors, and rejects the belief in the zero grade. A determined focus on the success of all students, without subjective biases, leads to equitable grading. Creating motivating factors to learn and be part of a community of learners draws students in as scholars rather than masters of the points game. Promoting a growth mindset and risk-taking helps orient students to value learning.
My grading practices before Covid already reflected many of these grading beliefs and the diverse experiences of pandemic teaching reinforced their importance. Feedback conversations, alternate means to show student learning, test redos, and late work are now standard practice. As a mentor to young teachers and professional development presenter, I am in a beautiful place to advance grading for equity. I wholeheartedly believe our community of educators is ready for this shift. Our students deserve an equitable grading system that values learning over compliance.
At a recent virtual event, I attended a "Grading for Equity" session by high school teacher Brianna Davis. Her research and knowledge about the book and her classroom experience was enlightening and deepened my understanding of this important educational topic. She has kindly allowed me to share her presentation with us. She can be found on Twitter at @MrsDavidRCHS.
Presentation link here.