Welcome to the Points Marketplace
|Complete the Assessment Worksheet
|+ 10 pts
|– 3 hours
|Read Grading for Equity
|+ 20 pts
|– 2 days
|– 10% /day
|+ X days
|Find a sample rubric
|+ 5 pts EC
|– 5 min
At the end of the semester, each student receives a single letter grade that summarizes how well they learned the content of our course. But, how much of that grade is really a measure of what they learned? How much of a student’s final grade is based on:
How complicated is their life?
Students with many responsibilities (such as unpredictable work schedules or family members who face emergencies) may lose points on late work because they need to choose between helping their child and helping themselves.
One of the concerns faculty have with removing late penalties is that students will abuse this allowance. This was not my experience when I went from very harsh late penalties to none at all. Most students still completed the assignments on time. The main difference I saw was that students who would likely have dropped due to missing early assignments stayed in the class and learned the content.
How much extra time do they have?
When we give students extra points for activities that are time intensive (such as watching a movie and connecting it to course content), we may be grading students on how much free time they have. Faculty often use extra credit as a “slush fund” to make up for points deducted due to things like late work. If we remove those penalties, students can focus on the learning rather than “making up points”.
Do they know the “hidden curriculum” of academia?
When we make assumptions about what a “good” essay looks like or the test-taking skills students bring, we may be measuring which high school students attended rather than their knowledge of our content.
When we have harsh late policies but bend them for students who request an extension, we are actually measuring a student’s willingness to tell us about their challenges, their feelings of being worthy of special treatment, and their cultural background. It’s much more fair to let all students know up front that late work is acceptable. That is a move towards a more equitable learning environment.
A concern I often hear about removing late penalties is that this makes the class less fair to students who complete the work on time. Treating all students equally can seem like the fairest approach but, in actuality, we are creating a playing field that benefits students who come to our class from backgrounds most similar to our own. Clearly outlining the flexibility in our course policies helps us build a course that responds to individual student needs. This lets us and the students focus on the course content rather than navigating course logistics.
Let’s revisit the points marketplace
In the table above, a student may choose to lose points for a late assignment over losing hours at work. After all, they can make up these points with extra credit but can’t make up the lost wages. And, a student with limited time may skip the reading. This reading takes the most time and results in the fewest points/hour. Unfortunately, this is also the single most useful item on the list. I highly encourage you to read Grading for Equity (for zero points)! It brings a fascinating perspective that completely changed the way I look at grading.
Disinvestment from the points marketplace
Instead, what if we focus our grading directly on what we want students to learn and remove all the confounding variables that add inaccuracies to our measures.
For example: I want to measure a student’s understanding of the respiratory system. I could ask students to write an essay – but this measures writing skill AND their understanding of the respiratory system. The writing skills are a confounding variable because they mask the true measure of a student’s understanding of the respiratory system. Similarly, using a timed multiple choice test adds the confounding variables of how fast students recall information and their ability to parse multiple choice test questions.
An alternative approach to this assignment is to tell students exactly what you intend to measure and let them choose how best to demonstrate this knowledge. For example:
Trace the movement of a molecule of oxygen from outside the body until it reaches a red blood cell. This may be easiest to answer using a numbered list, but you are welcomed to approach this however works best for you.
- Include the following structures: alveoli, bronchus, bronchioles, epiglottis, larynx, pharynx, trachea. Briefly describe each of these structures.
- Also include the terms: diffusion, oxygen and carbon dioxide.
The assignments in my biology class give students options in how they demonstrate their knowledge. Students choose to describe this process using a wide variety of strategies: an essay, labeled diagram, flowchart, video, and many more. I’ve been amazed at all the creative and engaging strategies students find for explaining concepts. Grading becomes fun! (yes, really…) The key to giving students options in how they demonstrate their knowledge is to be clear about what I am assessing and grading. Good rubrics (like the one below) are essential.
|Structures are described correctly
|Flow of oxygen molecule is accurate described using the listed structures
|Diffusion, oxygen, and carbon dioxide are accurately identified
Compare this rubric with the table at the very beginning of this article. What are students asked to focus on? Which gives us more accurate information about what a student is learning? I invite you to share your thoughts and equitable grading approaches in a comment below!