Equitable Grading Practices

This strategy provides tools for reflection of grading practices resulting in a more equitable approach
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About This Strategy

Teachers can use this strategy to ensure the equity of their grading practices and analyze the effect of those practices on all students. To make grading practices more equitable, teachers can identify and prioritize standards and skills that students must master in order to move on in the curriculum so that every student is receiving what they need in order to be successful. By using this strategy teachers can challenge the stereotype that fair is equal in terms of grades, and they can also expect to become more reflective grading practitioners. 

Implementation Steps

  1.  Communicate grading practices with administration, families and students. Communication with students and families could take place at an open house, through the school or class newsletter, or on the School Information System (SIS) or Learning Management System (LMS). Please see the Communicating the Grading System document in the resources section for more communication ideas.
  2. Reflect upon the questions below. See Unpacking Standards Template and Examples in the resources section for more guidance:

    • What are the priority standards of the course or this unit?

    • What does an example of proficient student work look like?

    • What are 2-4 learning targets that the student must master to reach proficiency? You may review the differences between mastery and proficiency in the resources section. 

  3.  Evaluate the most important assignments that prove students have mastered these standards. Approach your evaluation through the lens of equity
  4. Give yourself permission to break the rules of grading by making some exceptions for student success at an individual level. Understand that providing equitable assistance for student success does not look the same for every student. Some ideas of these exceptions include the points below. More can be found in the On Your Mark book in the resources section.
  • Exempt or leave the score blank for missing assignments if the student has shown mastery of the standard in another way.
  • Give 50% for missing work that must be completed to show mastery.  

    • "When combined with the common practice of grade averaging, a single zero can have a devastating effect on a student's percentage grade...To recover from a single zero in a percentage grade system, a student must achieve a minimum of nine perfect papers" (Guskey, 2015, p. 31). Guskey agrees that there should be a consequence for irresponsible actions, "but should the penalty be so severe that students have no chance of restitution or recovery regarding their grade"(Guskey, 2015, p. 31). 

  • Allow students the use of notes or additional resources on assessments. We are attempting to teach students how to find information successfully and problem solve. If they can find the answer, let them use the materials.

EL Modification

The purpose of this modification is to ensure teachers are grading all students on what they truly know. Teachers will reflect upon how they approach grading practices for EL students and the ways they can guarantee that the reading, writing, speaking and listening skills they are assessing align with their content standards. 

Implementation steps:

  1. Ensure that the material is accessible for your EL students. View the Ideas to facilitate English Learner comprehension during Remote Learning and EL Tips and Tricks documents in the resources section below. If possible, give the assessment in their heritage language. 
  2. Make modifications in how you approach designing the assessment. The Shawnee Mission School District page SMSD ELL Resources for Teachers: Assessing, Grading & Individualizing Instruction provides information on these modifications.
  3. Modify the assessment to be given verbally if the student is proficient in oral language communication.

Special Education Modification

Teachers will reflect upon grading practices and assessments for students with disabilities students. Many of these modifications can be made in accordance with or in addition to those already required by a student's IEP or 504 plan.

Implementation steps: 

  1. Make modifications in how you approach the assessment itself. Although it is possible that modifications are necessary to the assessments, this strategy is geared towards the grading of any assessment. In addition to the following ideas, please see the documents in the resources section. 

    • Modify your written assessment rubric so that the most important thing to consider is whether students' responses are meaningful and accurate.

    • Shorten the assessment. Allow students to give fewer examples of mastery.

    • Eliminate assessment questions or prompts that do not directly align with your most important priority standards.

    • Excuse assignments from the grade book that do not directly align with your most important priority standards. 

    • Replace a summative assessment score with a project or course assignment score that assesses the same standard or skill. 

    • Consider using verbal assessments as a check for understanding.

Equitable Grading Practices for Distance Learning

This modification provides students in distance learning a one stop shop for the priority assignments from a course or grading period. This could be provided at any point throughout a distance learning course, but would be especially effective for students at the end of the grading period. This practice allows students and teachers in distance learning to isolate very specific learning targets. In distance learning, teachers need to be very intentional about the work they are actually entering into the gradebook to count towards a student's final grade. This is not to say that other grades and feedback should not be given, but perhaps they do not need to count towards the summative and final course grade. This modification provides a template for intentional decision making on what should be included in the grade in distance learning. The teacher will list the priority standards or learning target from the course and the names of assignments that align with student mastery of the standard. Students self-evaluate their performance on learning targets or priority standards. Students may redo or prove their mastery through an alternate assignment if they have not shown mastery on prior work.

Implementation steps:

  1. Complete the Semester Portfolio Template in the resources section below including specific priority standards or learning targets for your class. 

  2. Link or list the assignments students have completed to demonstrate mastery of this standard or learning target. 

  3. Determine what score, percentage or grade your students must have achieved to show mastery. Some buildings set mastery goals (i.e. mastery is 70% or above), meaning any student that scored below 70% must be provided additional reteach instruction and an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge again. 

  4. Provide very short, quick check alternate assignments that can prove their mastery if they did not demonstrate it on the first assignment. 

  5. Optional: Replace the original score in the grade book with the new score displaying mastery of the skill.

Related Lessons

This strategy can be used with my Identifying Proficiency Levels lesson because the lesson teaches students what they need to do to be successful in the Spanish 1 classroom.

Culturally Responsive Learning Alignment

Creating a classroom environment where all students know that they have the potential to be successful is essential to student learning and achievement. Using equitable grading practices allows students to identify exactly what it is they need to do to achieve mastery. These practices take into consideration the numerous external factors that contribute to a student's academic performance without penalizing them for it.

Consulted Resources

In developing this strategy, the following resource was consulted.