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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

No extra credit for Kleenex: 'Equitable grading' is honest -- not easy, says advocate

"Equitable grading" isn't a strategy to inflate grades and lower expectations, argues Joe Feldman, author of Grading for Equity and CEO of Crescendo Education Group, in a conversation with Rick Hess.

Hess is a fan of "traditional norms like hard work and personal responsibility," and worries "that easy grading sends the wrong signal to students, gives a false sense of confidence to parents, and makes it tougher for teachers to maintain rigorous expectations."

Feldman agrees that teachers shouldn't inflate grades out of empathy for students' problems. Students deserve honest, accurate evaluations of their learning, he says. Empathy should be channeled into improving learning through "additional supports, relevant and engaging curriculum and instruction, and multiple pathways to access and demonstrate learning."

One of the least equitable things we can do is mislead students by assigning them inflated grades and false descriptions of their performance, because doing so sets them up for a rude awakening and possible future failures.

In the real world, Hess responds, teachers have told him that "equitable" policies, such as "endless retakes" and "an end to graded homework," are "lowering expectations, permitting students to coast, and making diligent students feel like suckers."

That's "equitable grading" done badly, says Feldman. "When we grade equitably, we offer students the opportunity to learn from their mistakes," but teachers have to decide how to do retakes and when it's "time to move on." The goal is for the grade to represent the student's understanding at the end of the course, not their struggle to get there.

Homework should be seen as practice, not performance, says Feldman. "No one counts the free throws you make during practice and adds that score to the game score. But if you don’t practice free throws, you won’t make them during the game." Teachers need consequences for not doing homework that aren’t grade-based, such as requiring attendance at a study session.

Grades should reflect "what a student knows," as measured by assessments, not whether the student completed homework, came to class on time, raised their hand in a discussion or other behaviors, he argues.

Advantaged students find it easier to comply with nonacademic expectations, Feldman adds. They're the ones bringing in tissues for extra credit. Awarding points for nebulous categories such as “participation” or “effort”advantages students with particular personality types. That's not fair.

(I had an eager-beaver routine for P.E. that guaranteed I'd get A's. Actually, once I figured out my French teacher was deaf, I raised my participation grade to an A too.)

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Bruce Smith
Bruce Smith
Feb 14

North America's one-room schoolhouse educational foundation has led to the extraordinary power of individual teachers' idiosyncratic grading policies, which probably affects the growing disparity between this nation's inflated, internally assessed marks and its students' performances on internationally normed assessments; better policy is to fairly assess everyone by publishing the balance of internal and external assessments before anyone signs up for a course, so that all students, and society as a whole, understand how they will be graded, and absurdities like extra credit, and mistakes like counting homework towards grades, can be avoided.


Darren Miller
Darren Miller
Feb 13

"The goal is for the grade to represent the student's understanding at the end of the course, not their struggle to get there."

Sounds to me like the final exam grade should be the semester grade. I've offered that option for years but not a single student or parent has ever taken me up on it. And retests just allow students to recon the original tests.

As for not grading homework, I agree but only to a point. A large percentage of students are too immature to do homework if there's no immediate benefit (points! must get points!) to doing so. Homework counts only 10% in my courses, and those with over 85% in the course at certain benchmark dat…


Feb 13

"Equitable" schemes should focus on performance, striving for competence at least, and mastery at best. Beginning with the WuFlulishness lockdowns, I abandoned weekly deadlines in favor of just 2 'drop dead' dates, and allowed my students 3 tries for every assignment, with ALL assignments available "up front" in the semester. With lots of feedback for improvement and online coaching. A large majority of my students "got it" immediately, took advantage of the help, and nailed the course (a couple of Cs, some Bs, mostly As). Of course, the slackers all dithered until the last 2 weeks of class, but there were far fewer of them. That's my idea of equity.

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