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(Un)Grading for Equity: What are grades for?

Uncategorized May 01, 2023

Hello, All!


Well, it’s May. As we near the end of the school year, we send you so much love and encouragement.


This cumulative energy also offers us an opportunity to reflect on grading and assessment practices. Diagnostic, formative or summative? What testing and instructional strategies are equitable? Are participation, attendance, or “effort” grades a way to help students or do they harm them?


In our Instagram stories, we asked: “what are your thoughts on grading?”
Here are some of your responses: 

  • “Hate it. Hate all of it.” 
  • “We need to check for understanding & give/get feedback but grades indicate learning is done. It is not.” 
  • “High school English teacher. No quicker way to kill a kid’s spirit.” 


In Grading for Equity: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How It Can Transform Schools and Classrooms, educator Joe Feldman writes that most grading systems are inadequate at communicating whether a student understands a concept. Policies about point reductions for lateness, “extra credit,” and weighting of attendance or participation do all hinder a students’ ability to know whether they have learned the material. Other inaccurate and unhelpful grading practices that need to be reevaluated include: averaging over time, assigning a common grade for group work, and assigning a zero for work not handed in.  Equitable grading has three pillars: accurate, bias-resistant, and motivational. This includes nothing other than a student’s summative assessment results.


White guilt in grading is inequitable. 


What messages do we send to students through our grading systems? How do our implicit biases operate when we incorporate students’ nonacademic behaviors into their grades? What is the purpose of grading for “effort”? What about classes that are more “subjective,” like fine arts or physical education? 


Our grades reflect our values, and they should teach us what/how we have taught. 

“The buzzword nowadays is ‘differentiation.’ but how do you actually do that when you have a whole bunch of fluff in the grade books, and all you’re really doing is differentiation for the compliant and noncompliant child, rather than the child who has learned the standard and who hasn't?” (Joe Feldman, Grading for Equity, 243)


The Ungrading and Grading for Growth movements illuminate the ways traditional grading replicates what Freire described as the “banking model” of education. 


Retakes and redos are important: “students are motivated to keep learning if we let them– if they have the chance to redeem themselves and show improved performance” (165). But what about “the real world?” Remember: Retakes do exist in the “real world.” 


Feldman continues: “Because each teacher’s grading system is virtually unregulated and unconstrained, a teacher’s grading policies and practices reveal how she defines and envisions her relationship to students, what she predicts best prepares them for success, her beliefs about students, and her self-concept as a teacher. That’s why challenges to our grading practices don’t just offend our professional judgment; they can invoke an emotional and psychological threat” (6). 



  • When was the last time you reevaluated your grading practices? 
  • What are you assessing? What messages do your assessments teach?
  • How do educators sort their way through the maze of federal, state, and local school-wide initiatives while balancing their own personal agenda as to what really is important knowledge in the classroom and beyond? 
  • What criteria inform assessment of student work in drama? 
  • How do we determine accountability, attainment, progress, and quality? 
  • What assessment paradigms should inform teachers’ work? 
  • How can teachers become more reflective and use this skill to improve pedagogy?


We look forward to hearing your thoughts on grading!


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