Overview: Equitable grading is often described as providing fair, meaningful grades to all students. A promising approach, developed by an experienced educator Joe Feldman, has gained much attention and support in both the K-12 and higher education communities. Here at MSU, we introduced this approach to faculty through our consultation work and the STEM Teaching Essentials workshop series, which is a learning community for campus-wide faculty in STEM fields. Further, Jun and Stephen have worked with the EDLI faculty fellows to pilot implement and assess the effects of this approach in specific courses.
- We introduced and facilitated dialogues on the equitable grading practices among MSU faculty in STEM fields.
- We studied the effects of a pilot implementation of the equitable grading approach in an undergraduate biology course.
- We presented our work at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association.
Grading is an integral part of teaching. Extant literature has underscored the impacts of grades on students’ competence beliefs, efforts, and academic choice (e.g., Fenollar et al., 2007). Yet prior research showed that the traditional grading practices prevalent in most U.S. K-12 and college classrooms fail to provide fair, objective, and accurate accounts of student learning (e.g., Guskey, 2009). For example, traditional grading often allows little room for students to learn from mistakes and practice. An early F score could significantly reduce the likelihood to earn an A as the final course grade, in effect penalizing students for early struggles in the learning process (Feldman, 2018).
In recent years, educators have started to promote new ways towards more equitable grading. Equitable grading is often described as providing fair, meaningful grades to all students. A promising approach, developed by an experienced educator Joe Feldman, has gained much attention and support in both the K-12 and higher education communities. This approach is premised upon several elements: giving more weight to recent performance and growth, valuing knowledge instead of interpretable behaviors, allowing test retakes to cultivate a growth mindset, and promoting the use of rubrics, and building soft skills without incorporation into grading (Feldman, 2018).
Here at MSU, we introduced this approach to faculty through our consultation work and the STEM Teaching Essentials workshop series, which is a learning community for campus-wide faculty in STEM fields. Further, Jun and Stephen have worked with the EDLI faculty fellows to pilot implement and assess the effects of this approach in specific courses. For example, Dr. Kirstin Parkin implemented elements of the equitable grading approach into two sections of the BS 161 (Cell and Molecular Biology) course that she taught in Fall 2021.
Particularly, to assess how the incorporation of the equitable grading approach might influence students’ learning experiences, we adopted a quasi experimental design. The “experimental group” was the students in the two sections of the BS 161 course taught by Dr. Parkin in Fall 2021. There were two “control groups” in this study: one was the students in another two parallel sections of the course taught using the traditional grading practices in Fall 2021. The other was the students in two course sections of BS 161 in Spring 2021, which was the semester prior to the implementation of the equitable grading approach. Both “control groups” were taught or co-taught by the same instructor, Dr. Parkin.
Students’ perceived learning experiences were examined through an anonymous survey distributed in each group. For example, here are two questions as part of a quantitative measure:
Example quantitative measures (5-point Likert type scale, ranging from 1 = Strongly disagree to 5 = Strongly agree):
- Q1. The class activities (e.g. homework, lectures, or discussions) prepare you for the assessments (e.g. quizzes or exams).
- Q2. The questions on the assessments (e.g. quizzes, tests, exams) are well aligned with the class activities (e.g. homework, lectures, discussions).
Quantitative data by group:
- Spring 2021 Control Group (N1 = 144)
- Fall 2021 Experimental Group (N2 = 111)
- Fall 2021 Control Group (N3 = 170)
Main findings across different groups:
Q1 and Q2 aim at assessing students’ perceived alignment between their regular learning activities/tasks and the assessments in the course. Based on the results, students in the experimental group reported the highest average value on both questions, in comparison to the control groups (See the following table).
The following chart depicts the student responses to Q1 and Q2 in the three groups. As illustrated, the proportion of students who reported positive responses to each question was the highest in the experimental group.
“Isn’t (it) funny how simple suggestions can make such a big impact on students? One of my RCPD students was worried about how to manage their time on our exam, which is formatted to show 3 questions/page and does not allow students to go back and forth. The D2L timer is hard to follow and know whether you’re managing your time well. So we advise students to set two timer on their phones – a 6 minute timer for exam pages with 3 MC questions, and a 12 minute timer for exam pages with 2 MC questions + 1 free response question. Then they turn on the appropriate timer when they start the page and have an idea how their pace is. I sent a quick calculation of timers to my RCPD students to fit their accommodations (ex: 9 minute and 18 minute timers). One of them replied and told me the suggestion was ‘lifesaving’ – their exact words. Now truly – I don’t consider it lifesaving, but it does show all the little places where students need help.”Feedback from an EDLI faculty fellow
Future plans: We will continue to explore the pros and cons of the equitable grading approach through future dialogues or collaborative studies with practitioners and scholars both within and outside of MSU.
- Fu, J., Parkin, K., & Thomas, S. (2022, April). Equitable grading practices: Perspectives from K-12 and higher education teachers. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Diego, CA.
- Equitable grading practice in NEU 300 Neurobiology Presentation by Dr. Casey Henley
- Equitable grading practice in BS 161 Presentation by Dr. Kirstin Parkin
Author/Personnel: by Jun Fu; Stephen Thomas
Partners: Kirstin Parkin, Casey Henley
- Feldman, J. (2018). Grading for equity: What it is, why it matters, and how it can transform schools and classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
- Fenollar, P., Román, S., & Cuestas, P. J. (2007). University students’ academic performance: An integrative conceptual framework and empirical analysis. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 77(4), 873-891.
- Guskey, T. R. (2009, April). Bound by tradition: Teachers’ views of crucial grading and reporting issues. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, CA.