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Center for Teaching Excellence

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Improving Equity, Grade Challenges, and Late Work

Recommendations for Improving Equity in Grading Systems

Change Weighting Scale
When calculating a final grade, each type of assessment holds a certain “weight” in the overall grade. Exam results might be worth 50% of the entire grade, while daily assignments are worth 20%. Giving more weight to recent scores when averaging several scores over an extended period so that low scores early in the marking period don't discourage the student or allow performance on formative assessments to overshadow those on more summative assessments.

Allow for Self-Assessment
Give students an opportunity to assess their own learning and reflect on the progress they are making. They can identify their own gaps in skills or knowledge, revise their work, and set realistic goals. This process also helps students stay motivated and interested in their own learning.

Provide Multiple Assessment Formats
Students benefit from a grading system that includes multiple types of assignments, preferably designed to allow the students to demonstrate learning in different ways. General strategies include blending extended assignments such as projects with in-class, time-limited assessments such as tests, providing formative (e.g., activities, laboratories) as well as summative (e.g., tests) assessments, and providing an ample number of assessments throughout the marking period.

Tests do not need to be restricted to pencil and paper formats. Students with written output issues can be given oral-response tests. Instructors can use long answer, short answer, diagrams, charts, fill-in-the-blank, and other graphic organizers to have students answer questions about material.

Dealing with Grade Complaints

Occasionally students will dispute a test score or a final grade. In that case, it's important to give the student a courteous hearing. We may have added incorrectly, or overlooked work, or not been able to decipher the writing on a test. If, on the contrary, the grade should still hold, most students appreciate an explanation of how the grade accords with the policies we set forth.  

It’s easier to handle grade challenges, however, if we do not attempt to regrade exams with the concerned student looking on. Have students explain carefully whatever problem they see in the exam, and then ask them to leave for a time. Not only does this give us time to look over the exam on our own to recheck our records, and sometimes to rethink our original criteria for grading, but it also gives the oftentimes upset student a chance to calm down. Graduate Teaching Assistants also need to be careful not to get caught between professor and students on regrading questions. Professors can help GTAs by discussing beforehand, the expectations and policies for regrades; or GTAs can initiate the discussion, finding out who is responsible for regrading issues.

Managing Late Work (from A Few Ideas for Dealing with Late Work, Cult of Pedagogy)

What assumptions do you make when students don’t turn in work? Unmotivated?  Time-management issues?  Perhaps they may struggle with anxiety. Or they may not have the resources—like time, space, and technology—to consistently complete work at home. More attention has been paid lately to the fact that homework is an equity issue, and our policies around homework should reflect an understanding that all students may not have access to the same resources.  Possible solutions presented below reflect an instructor’s grading philosophy and recognition of issues that impact student work.

The assumption is that without some sort of negative consequence, too many students would wait until the end of the marking period to turn work in, or in some cases, not turn it in at all, and thus lose its value as a learning opportunity.  Several types of penalties are most common:

Point Deductions
Have an increasing amount taken off per day/week, or a standard amount that comes off for any late work (like 10 percent), regardless of when it is turned in. This policy still rewards students for on-time work without completely de-motivating those who are late.

No Feedback or Re-Dos
The real value of homework and other smaller assignments should be the opportunity for feedback that students use to improve. A consequence of late work could be the loss of that opportunity: accept late work for full credit, but only students who submit work on time will receive feedback or the chance to re-do it for a higher grade. Those who hand in late work must accept whatever score they get the first time around.

 “Life Happens” Passes 
Because things happen in real life that can throw anyone off course every now and then, some teachers offer passes students can use to replace a missed assignment. Typically these passes can only replace low-point assignments, not major ones, and generally only 1 to 3 passes per semester.  Other instructors allow students to drop a low score in the gradebook.  Another option is “Next Class Passes” which allow students one extra day to turn in work. At the end of every semester, you can give extra credit points to students who still have unused passes.  

Extension Requests
On the due date, students can submit a written request for a deadline extension rather than taking points off.  Most extension requests ask students to explain why they were unable to complete the assignment on time. This not only gives the students a chance to reflect on their habits, it also invites the teacher to help students solve larger problems that might be getting in the way of their academic success.  

Give Late Work Full Credit
Some instructors accept all late work with no penalty, with the assumption that if the work is important, and if we want students to do it, we should let them hand it in whenever they get it done. Other instructors fear this approach will cause more students to stop doing the work or delay submission until the end of a semester, but most students continue to turn work in more or less on time, and the same ones who were late under the old system were still late under the new one. The big difference is that the instructor no longer has to spend time calculating deductions or determining whether students had valid excuses; the work is simply graded for mastery.


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