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What Exactly is "Grading for Equity"?

What is the true equitable grading model? Each teacher and student has their own idea. Striving for equity in our society has extended into our education system. However, equity means creating an even playing field for each person’s individual circumstance. Which is why we see so many different variations of what people think is an equitable model. Everyone has their own reality that would make certain grading practices harder or easier for them. How can a widespread equitable grading system be established if there is no widespread solution to accommodate everyone?

Joe Feldman, professor and author of “Grading for Equity: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How It Can Transform Schools and Classrooms” explains the three main criteria for an equitable grading system are, “accuracy, bias-resistance, and intrinsic motivation” ( Feldman claims grading with these in mind is the best way to evaluate the academic standing and success of a student. Megan Leich teacher and guest on “Grading for Equity” by Modern Classrooms Project Podcast explains how she began to evaluate her standard grading system. She began seeing grades from her students either being inflated or worse than she noticed in the actual knowledge and competence of her students. She began to change her grading system to meet the standards of this three-pillar system.

To improve accuracy, Leich recommends only putting grades in that reflect actual student knowledge and therefore stopping grading things such as attendance, participation, and homework. These grades do not reflect actual knowledge of the content or skill. However, this does mean all grades will come from tests and classwork. Those who tend to have test anxiety or don't do well on tests could be negatively impacted by such a grading system. To help remedy this, retakes and corrections have to be made available. These measures could help create a grade that accurately represents a student's knowledge.

To help limit the impact of bias when grading Leich suggested making students’ electronically submitted work anonymous while grading it, so if teachers had any negative - or even positive— interactions with students that could not affect bias while grading.

To foster intrinsic motivation Leich argues for a flexibly paced work course. Intrinsic motivation is motivation through actual interest, not seeking external reward. More intrinsically motivated people are proven to have more long-term success and are less prone to burnout. Which is why trying to promote intrinsic motivation in schools is important. It's impossible to make students genuinely interested in all of their coursework, however, there are ways through grading practices that can help tailor learning to students needs and interests through a flexibly paced schedule. Leich explains how she understands the parameters in which things must be learned but offers different activities to practice and learn. If learning different concepts takes different times for everyone, they are given some flexibility to figure out what they need.

One thing we find teachers doing sometimes is telling students that grades don't matter. Megan Leich explains how this is damaging because it loses students trust in their teacher. In the society we live in today grades are important. If a student is trying to get into college it's a fact that grades matter, if they are trying to get a job, grades impact their chances. Another mistake teachers can make in their grading policy is not setting clear standards on how grading is done. For example some teachers may accept late work until a specific date, but that date must be specified and clear or saying it depends when regarding late work is also confusing for students. A student may think it is fine then see a deflated grade due to late work. Or a student can ask for an extension but the amount of time till the next strict deadline is not explicit and clear. Much of this confusion may not even be because of a specific teacher but just the difference in grading systems between each teacher. For example if a student has six teachers that means they have to now memorize six different grading systems. It is important to remember when on this journey to improve our grading systems to not blame possible inequitable practices on teachers. Thinking teachers should adjust some of their criteria to fit one's idea of equity is naive when there are many others who would disagree if it's even equitable or realistic. Remember, equitable grading doesn't just mean easier it means fair and just.

Using this three-pillar approach, teachers can try to align their grading system to be more equitable, Leich recommends teachers find a community to discuss grade reform. As an East community we could begin to implement these standards by creating an equitable grading conversation that includes teachers as well as students. It’s important to remember that creating an equitable system takes time and effort but we can begin to reform our education system.

However this equitable grading model using the three pillar system and Leich’s modifications only works if the purpose of school is just to teach content. Is the goal of school to also teach and assess participation, effort, and attendance? Is equitable grading not sufficient in preparing students for reality after high school? Or is equitable grading even possible because everyone has such a different circumstance? If teachers want to teach these skills to students then assigning a grade for these skills may be the only way to motivate students to improve upon them. In order to create an equitable grading model the goals of what is being graded for must be established.

After highschool effort, participation, and work at home can be important skills to have, but is Math or English the best place to learn these skills? Maybe, but to even begin creating equity in grading there must be clear standards on what skills are even being assessed.

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