Capital Region School Leaders Explore Grading for Equity

School district leaders and their cabinets recently gathered at Capital Region BOCES to explore the topic of Grading for Equity. 

Schoharie Central School District Superintendent David Blanchard, who chairs the CRB Superintendents’ Equity Committee, kicked off the conversation. “Building awareness about equity in grading is a priority for Capital Region school districts,” Blanchard said. “The goal today is to dig into the topic of grading and the other factors used to determine student achievement, to collectively grow our understanding about the need for change in these systems and ‘move the needle’ in small but meaningful ways that can better serve all students.”

In all, 85 educational leaders from 20 BOCES component school districts gathered to learn more about equitable grading from an expert in the field: author, educator and founder and CEO of Crescendo Education Group, Joe Feldman. Since 2013, the Crescendo Education Group has supported K-12 schools, districts, and colleges/universities nationwide to improve grading practices. 

History and Culture of Grading

During the virtual presentation, Feldman provided an overview of Grading for Equity and spoke of the urgency to make grading more equitable.

“When thinking about a culture of sustainable teaching and learning we’re not making as much progress toward equity in grading because educators are not taught how to grade—and approach it often with the best intentions—but in a variety of different and more or less effective ways that reflect our own and institutional biases, consciously or subconsciously.”

Feldman explained the history of our grading system and how those traditional practices perpetuate achievement and opportunity gaps for students with fewer resources who have been historically underserved.  

“We continue to use the century-old grading practices we inherited that undermine our work and perpetuate disparities,” he said. “To provide every kid the chance to be successful, changes are needed. Grades should be based on academic mastery and growth instead of averaging performance over time. It should be transparent; and not include extraneous or subjective behaviors, such as class participation or turning homework in on time.”

Pillars of Equitable Grading Defined

Feldman then introduced what he called the three pillars of equitable grading: accuracy, bias-resistance, and intrinsic motivation. “There are ways to grade more accurately and more consistently, resistant to bias and more motivational that can counteract institutional biases and align equity with our grading,” he said.

Following Feldman’s presentation, educator teams engaged in conversations in which they shared takeaways that resonated with them, considered possible bridges and barriers to grading for equity, and discussed what they want to explore further. The table conversations were supported by facilitators from the Educational Support Services and the Engagement and Development Services divisions.