Grading for Equity

A transformational practice of grading and assessment is beginning to take root at WT. Known as Grading for Equity, it is accurate, growth-focused, bias-resistant, and motivational—and it nurtures and supports WT’s dedication to progressive education and its commitment to equitable practices.

“Grading for Equity takes out implicit biases and speaks to students’ mental and emotional wellness, developing their capacity to have a growth mindset, to feel successful and competent in the material, and to get feedback in an authentic and non-judgmental way,” says Amanda Welsh, Director of Middle School. “It also eliminates labeling learners as certain types of students and speaks to the potential they all have to master all subjects.”

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Middle School Spanish Teacher Nicole Hartung

Equity, Accuracy, and Mastery

Developed by former educator and administrator Joe Feldman, and detailed in his book, Grading for Equity, the approach counters problems in traditional grading practices that can hamper authentic learning, invite bias, and contribute to stress.

“This approach,” Welsh explains, “allows us to equitably assess our students’ mastery and learning. For example, a student’s grade for a class is not the average of grades accumulated over a trimester. Rather, students have the opportunity to grow in their learning and show true mastery by retaking tests and quizzes, actually ending a trimester with a grade reflective of what they know. It also views homework differently. Now meant for formative feedback, homework is not graded; instead, it provides an opportunity for students to practice on their journey toward mastery of skills.”

Middle School Faculty Leads Gradual School-Wide Rollout

During 2019–2020, Welsh explored Feldman’s book with faculty who had begun questioning whether traditional grading and assessment practices had kept pace with WT’s evolving teaching methods and pedagogy. Not only did the approach resonate with their discussions; they found it complemented the Middle School program overall: “It is closely aligned with our Developmental Designs philosophy centering on the four needs of an adolescent learner: autonomy, competence, relationship, and fun,” notes Welsh.

Grading for Equity had a huge impact on my thinking about assessments, what motivates students to learn, and overall grading practices,” reflects Middle School Spanish Teacher Nicole Hartung. “These are all connected. Moving homework, and any practice work, out of the grading process creates an environment where mistakes are expected as an important part of the learning process. I tell my students, ‘Mistakes are expected and respected,’ and I mean it. Practice work leads to progress in learning. That progress shows up in the assessment. I enjoy helping students to see that connection.”

Adds Hartung, “Students who see a clear path to success, who know their teachers will meet them where they are, and who can practice to show content mastery, are students benefiting from both Grading for Equity and Developmental Designs. They have both the tools and the environment to thrive in our WT Middle School community and beyond.”