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How to Guard Against Biased Grading

Marc Ottaviani and Tricia Stanley

A student’s grade can not be considered authentic if it allows for the existence of bias. When how and what we assess is not transparent or culturally relevant to students, our implicit biases can cause us to grade unfairly. Furthermore, the reliance on habits of work and academic behaviors in assessment systems can potentially foster compliance and dependence instead of independence and critical thinking. This is particularly true for students of color that have been historically oppressed. We suggest that teachers only assess content comprehension and skill acquisition and invite students into the assessment process. We will explore how culturally relevant classrooms place the student in the center of the lesson in order to break the replication of society’s racist power dynamic. In this session, participants will be guided through a series of interactions about assessment and bias. We will ask participants to reflect on their own beliefs and assumptions around assessment, to discuss both the value of specific academic behaviors as well as the ramifications of removing academic behaviors from grading. Finally, we want participants to question how implicit bias affects their own classrooms and their systems of assessment.

Conversational Practice

We will begin the session with a “silent conversation,” wherein participants collectively write on a large piece of bulletin board paper to capture their thoughts and interact with one another around three questions: “What do you grade in your class/school?” “How are grades determined?” “Why is this what’s graded? What practices are in place to avoid biased grading?” The conversational aspect of this activity occurs in the participants’ reactions to what is being written. They will be encouraged to interact with one another silently by commenting on what is written, to add follow up questions, and to identify common understandings and agreement.

After the silent conversation commences, participants will circle up and discuss similarities and themes they notice in the responses. At this point, teachers will be introduced or reminded of the idea of implicit bias through completing a quiz from Project Implicit. After taking the quiz, participants will engage in a conversation about that experience and its implications for their grading practices.

Next, teachers will be asked to participate in a “Take a Side” activity. We will provide statements about traditional methods of assessment and ask participants to “take a side.” Each participant either has to agree or disagree with the statement and defend their choice. This activity encourages participants to listen to a diverse collection of perspectives and engage in multiple narratives.

Lastly, participants will read the following article about practices around standards based grading:http://crescendoedgroup.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Equitable-grading-Leadership-Mag_NovDec.pdf and discuss text excerpts.

In closing, facilitators will share how they have worked to make their classrooms authentic spaces for learning through the use of standards based grading and a commitment to removing bias from their practice. Participants will then circle back up and discuss the following questions: How does implicit bias affects the way in which we assess? Can we prevent implicit bias from affecting our assessment? What systems or structures can be put in place to check these biases?

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