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Grading for Equity

Grading for Equity
What It Is, Why It Matters, and How It Can Transform Schools and Classrooms

Second Edition

September 2023 | 344 pages | Corwin

Raise standards and improve learning for all students through equitable grading

Grading–one of the most important responsibilities of teachers with major implications for students’ academic and life trajectories–is ironically also among the most enigmatic and frequently avoided topics in education. Although most teachers sense that common grading practices are often ineffective, there is limited understanding of how those practices can undermine effective teaching and harm students, particularly those historically underserved. It is long past due to implement grading practices that are more accurate, bias-resistant, and motivational, and which improve student learning, empower teachers, and transform classrooms as a result.

In this newly updated edition of the best-selling Grading for Equity, Joe Feldman provides a valuable resource for anyone invested in grading and its impact on students’ education, mental health, and future opportunities. Offering a research-based alternative to the status quo, this practitioner-friendly guide provides

  • Extensive revisions that reflect how the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement shifted traditional grading systems
  • New data from both academic research and classrooms that demonstrate the benefits of equitable grading for all students
  • Clear approaches to implement equitable grading practices
  • Updated information on several equitable grading practices, including proficiency scales
  • A new concluding chapter that explores implementing equitable grading system-wide

With a down-to-earth style driven by the author’s own curiosity as a teacher, principal, district administrator, and university instructor, this book will invite and challenge you to think about how more equitable grading, when implemented effectively, creates a more rigorous, humane, and positive school experience for all.

About the Author
Preface to the 2nd Edition
A Note About Language and Terminology
Prologue: Mallory’s Dilemma
Chapter 1. What Makes Grading So Difficult to Talk About (And Even Harder to Change)
Chapter 2. A Brief History of Grading
Chapter 3. How Traditional Grading Stifles Risk-Taking and Supports the “Commodity of Grades”
Chapter 4. Traditional Grading Hides Information, Invites Biases, and Provides Misleading Information
Chapter 5. Traditional Grading Demotivates and Disempowers
Chapter 6. A New Vision of Grading
Chapter 7. Practices That Are Mathematically Accurate
Chapter 8. Practices That Are Mathematically Accurate (Continued)
Chapter 9. Practices That Value Knowledge, Not Environment or Behavior
Chapter 10. Practices That Value Knowledge, Not Environment or Behavior (Continued)
Chapter 11. Practices That Support Hope and a Growth Mindset
Chapter 12. Practices That “Lift the Veil”
Chapter 13. Practices That Build “Soft Skills” Without Including Them in the Grade
Chapter 14. Putting It All Together: Nick and Cathy
Chapter 15. Systemwide Grading Coherence
Epilogue: A Return to Mallory’s School

We don’t usually think of grading when talking about equity, but in Grading for Equity: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How It Can Transform Schools and Classrooms, Joe Feldman helps us see why grading is an integral part of an equity agenda. He shows us how we can use grading to help students become the leaders of their own learning and lift the veil on how to succeed. He reminds us that authentic assessment and transparent grading are essential parts of a culturally responsive classroom. This must-have book will help teachers learn to implement improved, equity-focused grading for impact.

Zaretta Hammond
Education Consultant and Author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain

This book will stop educators who want to improve their practices with underserved students right in their tracks. Feldman offers an insightful invitation to teachers who dare change the ways in which we have been taught to grade students’ products. He demonstrates how our grading practices are grossly undersubstantiated and too often unquestioned, and he challenges educators to build equitable assessment tools and mechanisms to support learning and development of all students. Grading for Equity penetrates macro-level grading policies to transform micro-level teaching practices that embrace the cultural and the contextual. A must read for justice-centered educators.

Rich Milner
Co-author of “These Kids are Out of Control and Past President of the American Educational Research Association

"Feldman is the nation’s leading expert on equitable grading. It is an honor to feature him and his insights in ACUE certification courses. The
proven approaches he recommends are as relevant to professors as they are to any educator committed to grading as a tool for deeper learning.”

Jonathan Gyurko, PhD, President and Co-Founder
Association of College and University Educators (ACUE)

"Grading for Equity: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How It Can Transform Schools and Classrooms offers extensive research, practical examples, and a clear, compelling narrative about the flaws in traditional and ubiquitous grading practices and how educators, administrators, and policymakers can change them without compromising high standards, rigor, and academic integrity. Indeed, Feldman demonstrates how equitable grading practices raise standards for all students by mitigating biases, eliminating irrelevant “extra credit” points, and leveling the playing field such that what students actually know shines more brightly than metallic markers, expensive poster boards, and other trappings unavailable to all students. As a call to action for public and private schools alike, it encourages a long-overdue conversation about the role of grading in shaping teaching and learning, student experiences and outcomes, and addressing systemic barriers to educational equity, some of which have existed for generations."

Caroline G. Blackwell, Vice President
Equity and Justice, National Association of Independent Schools

"The deep explanations of 'why' in this book demonstrate how equitable grading practices can work in college and university classrooms. Grading for Equity is the seismic change we need in higher education to help us serve more students in a more meaningful way."

Evan Variano, Professors and Former Dean of Students
College of Engineering, University of California, Berkeley

"In the height of COVID-19, we leaned on Joe's expertise and his book: Grading for Equity.  Now as we rebound from the pandemic, this book will equip postsecondary faculty with the theories and practices of equitable grading to prevent us from subjecting another generation of college students to the harms of traditional grading and transform both the faculty and student experience."

Fatima Alleyne, Director of Community Engagement and Inclusive Practices
College of Engineering, UC Berkeley

Wow, wow, wow!!! This book hooked me as a not-to-be-missed read right from the Prologue. Joe Feldman makes a strong case for shared grading practices to overcome the inequity of traditional grading, with solid reasoning, well-chosen research evidence, and perhaps most significantly, the powerful and frequent use of teacher voice. The chapters’ organizing structure encourages thoughtful and reflective reading and will be particularly beneficial for book study within PLCs. . . . The main message of the book for me is summed up in this quote: “We teachers cannot continue to sacrifice the integrity and reliability of our grades at the altar of professional autonomy.”

Ken O’Connor
Author and Consultant How to Grade for Learning

There is growing awareness within the industry of education that traditional grading practices have become a barrier to meaningful student learning. One dilemma is that there is a lack of resources to support educators who want to adopt new grading practices that are both accurate and equitable. Joe Feldman addresses this need with his book, Grading for Equity. Joe skillfully makes a compelling argument for change and offers specific ways educators can make profound differences to their grading practices. Students become intrinsically motivated to learn when their grades accurately measure where they are in the learning process. Students who typically give up any hope of success can now approach learning with a positive growth mindset. Grading for Equity will provide clarity and tools for an individual instructor or as a book study for an entire organization.

Dr. Jeffrey Tooker
Superintendent Placer Union High School District

Joe Feldman peels back the curtain and shows the many flaws of our traditional grading system. His arguments are convincing, and the alternatives he proposes are both practical and powerful. Reading this book will make you rethink the way you assess students and will inspire you to enact a system that encourages revision and redemption instead of compliance and corruption.

Denise Pope
Senior Lecturer Stanford Graduate School of Education and Co-founder, Challenge Success
Key features

(1) Describes how to implement equitable grading practices that have been tested and refined by teacher, while, at the same time, helps administrators, teachers, and advocates navigate the tricky political and emotional challenges of an equitable grading initiative. 

(2) Provides the reader with a deep understanding of the critical weaknesses of our current grading system and proven strategies to make grading more accurate, fair, and supportive of every student’s learning.

(3) Richly-detailed examples bridge the gap between theory and practice.

(4) Reflective prompts embedded across the book  help individual readers and teams process, synthesize, reflect, and connect with the material.

(5)  Practices have been used by hundreds of teachers across a variety of contexts including classrooms serving low-income and higher-income students, and in elementary, middle and high schools.  

(6) The author has collected quantitative and qualitative data that have generated an evidence-based demonstration of the positive impact of these practices on student achievement (changes in D/F and A rates, and stronger correlation to external measures), classroom environments, and teachers’ sense of efficacy.

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