S2xE4: Grading for Equity with Joe Feldman

February 15, 2021
S2xE4: Grading for Equity with Joe Feldman

Joining us today is Joe Feldman, author of Grading for Equity and the CEO of Crescendo Education Group. We discuss the historical overview of grading and why now is a good time to rethink our grading process to make it more equitable. We got concrete by discussing our host’s, Kristin Stephens-Martinez’s, syllabus for her class and changes she was considering after reading Grading for Equity. One significant point Joe made is that grades should only convey the student’s level of mastery, not their behavior. Finally, we closed the episode with him pointing out we should do small experiments, iterate, and over time transition our classes to be more equitable, as well as discussed ways to normalize the new practices in the classroom. If you are interested in learning more, there is not only the book but also an online class.

You can also download this episode directly.


Kristin [00:00]: Hello and welcome to the CS-Ed Podcast, a podcast where we talk about teaching computer science with computer science educators or those who just are educators. For context, we are recording this episode on September 23rd, 2020. So potentially, some of the things we talk about will feel dated by the time you listen to this. But hopefully the future, when this podcast is released, will be better than our present. With the disruption of Covid-19 and the latest calls for changes in education due to racial inequalities. This season’s theme is, “Where should we go from here?” in hopes we can all take a pause and ask ourselves, “If I had time to reflect rather than react, what should I be doing? I am your host, Kristin Stephens-Martinez, an Assistant Professor of the Practice at Duke University. And joining me today is Joe Feldman, author of Grading for Equity He is the CEO of Crescendo Education Group. And thank you so much for joining us. Joe, how about you tell us a little bit about yourself.

Joe [00:56]: Sure. Well, thanks for having me, Kristin. I am a former high school teacher and principal. I was a school district administrator both in New York City and in Northern California. And, in 2013, I began working with schools and districts to help them improve the accuracy and fairness of the way that they grade. And, since 2013, now I’ve been working with schools and districts throughout the country. As well as a number of colleges and universities, including Cal and colleges in the SUNY system. So there’s been getting a lot of momentum around trying to think about how to grade more equitably. And it’s just great to be helping support folks doing this work.

Kristin [01:44]: Awesome. So I asked you here to really just focus on rethinking how to grade. And actually within the SIGCSE community, which is the main audience for this podcast, we had multiple email threads going talking about your book specifically. So I was really excited when you agreed to be on the podcast.

Joe [02:02]: Great!

Kristin [02:02]: I think to start, let’s in some way start by preaching to the choir. Giving us the historical overview of why this is important and why now is a good time to start rethinking about how we grade and shifting our focus more to asking ourselves, “How do we make sure we are grading more equitably?”

Joe [02:25]: Sure. So, I mean, one of the first points is that, you know, whether you’re in K–12 or post-secondary, you get very little training in how to grade. You’re supposed to know you’re content and you’re supposed to be pretty good at teaching it. But there’s just silence around how to grade. And one of the ironies is that even though the grade isn’t really thought—the how to grade isn’t really supported—It’s one of the most important aspects of the teaching and learning process. And it certainly has profound impacts on students’ trajectories and self-concept. And so it’s really valuable that we’re having this conversation.

It’s also a very difficult one, because grading really implicates a teacher’s professional identity and how faculty think about the kind of messages and values they’re trying to imbue in their classroom and the ideas that they’re trying to motivate or encourage or communicate to students about what the field is like, what the professional expectations are like, and what the content requires.

One of the problems is that we’re not really critically thinking about how we grade. We’re really just perpetuating how we were graded. And, unfortunately, the way that we grade is an artifact of the industrial revolution when we were living in a very different time. We were focused primarily on white males and how to best communicate their performance. So we were only dealing with a subset of the population. And we were using a lot of outdated—now debunked—ideas about what it means to learn and what and what the sort of human population is capable of. So we thought people sort of had a fixed intelligence, and so that’s why we applied the curve to IQ tests and other standards. And so a lot of faculty, particularly in post-secondary, but also in secondary, apply the curve, which has actually been shown in numerous ways to be detrimental to learning and to create inaccuracies.

You know, we also thought that the primary purpose of education was to sort, to sort particularly white males. And so, you know, we don’t necessarily think that that’s our primary job now is to sort, but rather to believe that every student is capable of excellence if given enough support. And we are supposed to report their performance against the content that we teach. So, you know, for those kinds of reasons, it’s really important to give us some space and invest in our education to be able to more critically look at how we grade and make sure that it aligns with equity.

You know, I think that a lot of institutions are becoming more and more aware of the urgency and sort of how late we are in addressing equity head on and thinking about populations that were historically underserved by our institutions. And how can we not just think about our pedagogy in ways that are culturally responsive and culturally embracing, but how can we align our grading practices so that we don’t undermine all of our equity work by using 100 year-old systems to grade?

Kristin [05:48]: Yeah. And for me, like all of what you’re talking about, is just echoing in my mind also where as as a professor at a university, I feel like we’re taught and trained even less than K–12 teachers are.

Joe [06:00]: That’s right.

Kristin [06:06]: So we are very much just perpetuating what had been done to us, basically, in terms of grading or whatever we inherited for the classes that we are teaching. And so I feel like reading your book was so much like, oh, this makes so much more sense. And why shouldn’t—why am I not doing this?

Joe [06:24]: That’s great. Yeah. And in fact, you know, the book is not just based on research that’s applied to the K–12 context. It’s research that’s been shown to be credible and applicable to the K–16 and beyond context around what we know about motivation, and what we know about what good teaching and learning, effective teaching and learning looks like, and what do we know about cultural responsiveness. So it blends those three research strains to make an argument that the practices that we have been using actually perpetuate disparities and undermine our equity work and are inaccurate and are demotivating. And that there are practices that we could use that align more with equity and the research on motivation and the research on how we really encourage and support groups that have not been served and actually been harmed and damaged by our institutions over multiple generations.

Kristin [07:20]: Yeah. And so I think the best direction to go, now that you’ve provided some historical context, is I am willing to have you basically critique and maybe rip my syllabus to shreds.

Joe [07:34]: Well, I’m going to, first of all, normalize that the practices that you’re using and many of the common practices are what teachers use and faculty use because they have no opportunity to really think about it differently. So, I am not going to rip anything apart. I’m just going to ask some questions and propose some ideas that might get you to think a little differently.

Kristin [07:55]: Thank you. That’s, like, the kind way to put it. I like the idea of approaching this episode this way because I wanted to provide the audience a very, like, practical, this is literally what I do in my class. And let’s discuss the pros and the cons and answer the questions that you would ask based on your book.

And so to provide context to the audience, I teach CS1, which is introductory computer science, and that’s the syllabus we’re going over. Fifty percent of my grade is based on the three exams, two midterms and a final. Where the midterms are each worth 15 percent. The final exam is worth 20. And then the rest of the grade is made up of reading quizzes, classwork, labs, programming problem sets, and then programming quizzes. And so I think to start with, given the context of your book, I’m curious to see how you would react to the idea that, for my reading quizzes and my classwork, each of those are three percent of the grade. And the classwork is basically peer instruction, which were questions that I asked the students during lecture. And so reading quizzes are graded based on, “You need 75 percent of the points possible for the entire semester to earn the three percent that it makes of your grade.” And for the classwork, “You once again also only need 75 percent of the possible points.” And the peer instructions are based on submission, “If you submitted an answer, we don’t care if you are correct during lecture, you will earn a point.” And I’m curious to see what your thoughts are for that part of my syllabus, which is, in some ways, really more measuring behavior, like, “Are you doing this thing at all?” rather than correctness.

Joe [09:38]: Yes. OK, so let’s take that apart in a few different ways.

Kristin [09:44]: OK.

Joe [09:44]: The first, sort of, is the more global way of thinking about it. So like many, many syllabi that teachers use, it’s a calculation based on the number of points accrued over the different tasks.

Kristin [10:00]: Yeah.

Joe [10:00]: Right, and that’s a very traditional way of doing things. And what that does is it essentially creates a nomenclature—vocabulary—for learning in which the goal is to amass as many points as possible in whatever way possible. And so it teaches students that the way to talk about their learning is in the language of points. So students will say, “Oh, can I just have one more point?” Or, “How can I earn more points?” Or, “Why did you only give me three points? I should have gotten five points.” And everything is about points and students sort of track their points. If, you know, there are apps that sometimes faculty will use that will show your current grade and students will put in different possible scores in a final exam to say, “If I get this many points based on this percentage weight, I’ll get this many points and I’ll get my A. And if I do this, I’ll get my A-.” And it all comes down to a scrambling for points. And the points are fungible, right? So if a student did very well in class work and earned their three percent there, it would counterbalance if they had a weakness on their quizzes—on one particular quiz, right? And the content is really irrelevant. If I was superlative in my participation, that essentially compensates for a weakness in understanding content, potentially, on a quiz. So, and you might say, well, you know, no one could do that. But it does sort of create that possibility that performance in one area, that behavior, could compensate for a weakness in knowledge in another category.

Kristin [11:34]: Yeah. And at the 3 percent level, that’s like a B+ to an A-, potentially, shift.

Joe [11:41]: Yep. And again, this is sort of in the global perspective, sort of, where we’re thinking about points as fungible. And learning sort of as, “Well, it’s just amassing points and you get them whichever way you can.” And there are other ways that you can do that. You could instead say that there’s actually a level of performance or level of knowledge that I’m expecting for these five different content areas. And you need to show the top level of performance for each of those five areas in order to earn an A. And instead of just saying, “You have to earn, you know, 90 points out of 100,” or, “47 points out of 56,” or whatever the numbers are, you could actually describe what it looks like to demonstrate the highest mastery of understanding of that content.

And this is where a lot of teachers start using rubrics. Where now the description is not in an abstract number of points accrued, but instead a grade is reflective of a specific and explicit level of mastery of the content. So, you know, when you’re creating your course, you know, if you’re teaching, you know—boy, I’m going to just put my foot in my mouth to think of anything for CS1—but, you know, if I’m looking at, like, working in cylindrical coordinates, to use sort of an engineering standard, I know what A-level mastery of that looks like. I know what a student can know and be able to do to show A-level mastery. And I know what B-level mastery looks like. And so instead of having us have that in an inchoate way in our brains, that we then translate into an assessment that is a certain number of points out of a certain number of other points, we could instead just cut directly and say, “Hey, students, I’m going to describe for you what A-level mastery is, and this B, C, D… And wherever you fall in this will be your level of mastery and the grade that you’ve earned for this. And, in order to get an A, you have to show A-level mastery of, you know, four of the five content areas or all five.”

So what you’re doing then is you’re, you’re transcending all of these “points” language. And getting students to talk more in the vocabulary of the content area. So we would much rather have students say, “If I can just do X, I’ll be able to earn an A.” We’d rather them sit, talk like that, than to say, “If I get two more points, I can get an A.” And so there’s other ways to think. So, again, this is the larger conversation around how to think about describing performance and grades in terms of level of mastery rather than about points accrual. So that’s the big idea. So I’m going to get now into much more concrete about what you’re talking about.

Kristin [14:28]: OK.

Joe [14:29]: You were asking about students getting points for behavior.

Joe [14:33]: So a problem with that—or concern—is that ultimately we want our grades to be accurate, right? We want to accurately describe a student’s level of content understanding. And what we don’t want is to have our grade try and collapse lots of different data and variable data into a single letter. So we wouldn’t want to say, have the student who is just an angel and eloquent and, you know, works well with everybody else—but doesn’t know the content very well—to get a B. And, at the same time, have a student who knows the content like the back of their hand—and is shy, and a little awkward, and comes late every day—to also get a B. Because if that’s the case, then the B has very little meaning in terms of communication.

So what I talk about is having the grade only reflect the content mastery—the level of content understanding. And yet, while behaviors are really important, we want students to participate. We want students to collaborate. We would give them feedback on those things, but we wouldn’t include their performance on the behavior in the grade. So in that way, we’re letting them know how they’re doing. But how well they do on behaving the way we want would not impact the grade.

Kristin [15:54]: When I was reading your book, I also had this gut reaction and you addressed great in the books, so I’d love you if you dig into this a little bit deeper. But if I don’t grade the behavior…

Joe [16:02]: Yeah.

Kristin [16:03]: Will the students care?

Joe [16:05]: Yeah.

Kristin [16:06]: Because, like, the reason why reading quizzes and classwork are part of the grade—it’s a miniscule part in many ways. It’s just three percent…

Joe [16:14]: Right.

Kristin [16:14]: But it’s there because it feels like they wouldn’t care and they wouldn’t do it if I didn’t make it part of the grade.

Joe [16:21]: Yes. So I’m going to reference something that Ibram Kendi talks about in his book “Stamped from the Beginning”, which is, talks about racism in the history of the country and how policies and beliefs were so intertwined. And he talks about how, we think that beliefs come before structures, that certain ways of, certain things that we believe are going on and then we create structures to reinforce them. So we believe that students won’t do work, unless we award them points for it. And so we create structures that give them points for doing the preliminary work or the or the sort of practice work. When, in fact, it works the other way, that we create structures—and in Kendi’s example, we create structures like Jim Crow laws—that then create certain belief structures about what we think about Black people, and we sort of come up with ways to support those structures.

So the same thing is happening with grading. We create a structure that says, “You get points for doing the preliminary work or the preparation work.” And that then creates beliefs that students won’t do it unless we give them those points. When, in fact, over and over—this is true at both K–12 as well as post-secondary—when teachers stop giving grades for the practice, students continue to do the work. Because the teacher helps students internalize the understanding that the preparation is preparation and pays-off on the summative performance.

Just like when you have a kid go out and shoot free throws for an hour, nobody is saying, “I’m going to record the number of points you got for the number of free throws you made and then bring them to the game and have some portion of that count toward your score in the game.” That’s ludicrous. But, in classrooms, we think that we have to give them points for everything, including for practice. And, in fact, students come to understand that the reason I do the practice, and the classwork, and the homework sets is that it enables me to do better on the summative performance. And we can teach students the same thing. And teachers are just awestruck by the idea that they thought, they believed, students would only work if they gave them points. And then when they stop giving them points, students continue to do the work.

Kristin [18:46]: Part of me believes you. But another part of me is like, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Joe [18:50]: Well, and that’s what I would encourage. Like, I think, one of the hardest things for people is to just try it. What I encourage is people trying things on a small scale. You do not have to start this work by overhauling your syllabus. You can start by saying, “You know what, I’m going to try something for the next quiz. There’s going to be a couple of homework assignments over the next two weeks. And then there’s going to be a quiz.” I’m going to tell my students that I’m not going to include their homework performance in the gradebook. But I’m going to record whether or not they did it. And then we’re going to do the quizzes. And then I’m going to show them a chart that shows the strength of correlation between doing the homework and the quiz score. And help students understand that there is a relationship between those, that the homework is not for the teacher, it’s actually for the students. And I will help build in them an intrinsic understanding of the relationship between that practice and the performance.

Kristin [19:45]: Mm hmm. Yeah, it’s definitely a case, like I want to believe you. And I am actually very tempted to do this in my own CS class in the future. Another thing, while I was reading your book that I want to get at actually also is late policies.

Joe [20:01]: Yeah.

Kristin [20:02]: So, currently, my programming assignments, they are every two weeks. So every two weeks one is due and one is released. And the late policy is everything is due on Thursday, but everyone gets a 24 hour grace period through Friday. And then they get the weekend for a 10 percent late policy and then they get until the following Thursday to get 30 percent off for late policy. Though, most students get it done over the weekend.

After reading your book, I’m like, “Late policy doesn’t make sense because it’s about behavior rather than mastery. But we still need to get stuff done in a reasonable amount of time, because…” What’s nice in computer science is at least I have auto graders, so the student can submit a million times and the computer will tirelessly grade it every single time and tell the student their score. But we also have a part of an assignment that’s actually hand-graded because I can’t tell the computer exactly how to grade every single piece. So we need due days just to be able to know when to tell the graders to start grading the hand-graded portion. My current thinking now is most students do get it done on time, and I’m not going to delay assignments if students are late. So would it make sense instead to say, “Everyone, you still get a whole week. No points will be taken off. But instead, you at least have to do like this lateness reflection. Like, you got to fill out this extra piece in the reflection that’s already part of the assignment that reflects on why were you late? How will you do better next time? And all of those things…” Like, what are your thoughts on that?

Joe [21:32]: Can I ask you a question?

Kristin [21:33]: Sure.

Joe [21:34]: What problem are you trying to solve by having students do the additional reflection?

Kristin [21:39]: I guess, the thing that I’m trying to solve is to provide the students with some scaffolding for metacognition. To better understand why… I guess I’m trying to scaffold time management—that’s what I’m trying to do with those kinds of questions. Provide the students a scaffolding to think through, metacognitively, their time management strategies that might not be helping them get stuff done on time.

Joe [22:07]: So what you’re trying to do, and I think it’s going down the right road, is to not make the whether or not someone turned in something late to impact the actual grade they’ve received. Because you wouldn’t want to say that the student has, you know, a B-level understanding, but I’m actually going to lower it to a C+ because they turned in something late. Like their understanding is still at a B level. But you want to have some kind of consequence or some feedback around that they turned in something late. And I think that’s a preferable way to do it than to just take off 10 percent, because then you start getting inaccurate grades for reasons I said earlier.

So one of the things to think about… I’ll give you a couple of things. One is, “What might be reasons why someone turned in something late?” So it seems like the assumption that you’re making by having them do the reflection is that it’s a time management issue. And I think it’s worth considering that there very well may be students for whom time management isn’t the reason why it was late. It could be circumstances outside their control. And those outside circumstances are more likely to disproportionately affect students who have fewer resources, whether that be less income or have to work another job or have children or all kinds of things. So that’s the first thing. The second is that it might be that you wouldn’t want to have the reflection be essentially a self flagellation exercise, which I’ve seen too many times where you’re sort of asking for a pound of flesh of admittance of guilt and, you know, apology on the part of the student. And we don’t want to make it about that.

Kristin [23:54]: No no no.

Joe [23:55]: So, right. So, maybe, and some teachers think, like, “I just need to exact this because I want to—I sort of want to—punish them for turning in something late. So I’m going to make whatever is the task a punishment.” It seems like you’re not trying to do that. You’re trying to make this an opportunity to scaffold and get them to think about how they might manage it better.

Kristin [24:13]: That’s the goal at least.

Joe [24:14]: Right, and, you know, depending on the size of your class, you could have it be in this kind of format. You could also have it be where the first time you don’t ask the student to do anything. And just trust that they’re doing the best they can. Maybe if it happens a second time, then you start to intervene and think about what might be getting in the way of them handing things in on time.

I mean, it’s sort of like how it happens in the professional world. If you have something due and you can’t get it in quite on time and it’s gonna be a little late. Well, you might think, “Well, what we’d like to do is have the person tell us that it’s going to be late right?” We just want kind of a heads up. So maybe that’s the policy. Maybe if you’re going to turn it in late, it’s fine with me. I know that life happens. But I just want to know that it’s gonna be late. You don’t even have to tell me why, because it may actually not be my business of why it’s late. But—I just want, I just want to have—this is kind of the respect I’m hoping that we can build in this classroom. So in the professional world, you know, you turn in something late, you hope to get notice that it’s gonna be late. And the first time it happens, maybe it doesn’t matter, even. And maybe the second time it’s like, well, I understand, you know, it happened. But maybe the third time your boss comes up to you and says, “Hey, I’ve noticed it’s late, what can we do?” So things aren’t late because other people are depending on your work or, you know, we want to be able to move forward on this project or things like that.

So, it all goes into this category of what kind of feedback and conversations can we have with students that build the kind of skills we want and build the relationship that we want. All of which can occur outside importing all that information into the grade.

Kristin [25:50]: Yeah, I have multiple things that I want to comment on now, and I’m like, I’m excited. And at the same time, I want to be careful about time. So in terms of lateness, I teach a large class. I teach somewhere between 250 to 350 students in my CS1 class. And, in some ways, I like this idea of having students kind of just give me a heads up that things, that something’s going to be late. But at the same time, I recently read this book called Privileged Poor. And one of the main messages I got from that book is that students that are underprivileged and do not necessarily understand all these unwritten rules, like, “You can ask the professor for extra time.”

Joe [26:33]: That’s right.

Kristin [26:34]: And so I am more leaning towards the direction right now of making it so that, like for the privileged students, this will be a mild inconvenience. But for the underprivileged, this is just like, as far, their kind of being told that this is part of the class, that you have to do it rather than feel like they have to take the initiative for something. Because I’d be a little worried that those students who don’t understand these unwritten rules would see the, “You can tell me that you’re gonna be late. It’s all going to be fine.” And they won’t believe me. And then they’ll get super stressed out or something, or they won’t ask to be able to turn something in late and they’ll take the lower grade for some reason.

Joe [27:16]: Uh, huh. So I think that’s all part of the challenge when we’re changing the way that we grade. It’s to be as explicit as we can, about it, about what the policies are, both so the students who have prior successful educational experiences and generations of folks who have taught them how to navigate a system and for those who have been historically underserved that don’t know how the system actually works.

That explicitness and transparency is so important. And to continue to be explicit. So, for example, to say after the first quiz, “I’ve received 80 percent of them. And that’s great. And there’s a number of folks who are still to hand it in. And as I told you earlier, that’s OK, because I would rather have your high quality work than to have you rush and show me a weak performance. And that’s how the professional world also expects from you. So great, everybody, like, just keep it up. Remember, if you’re going to turn in late. Just a reminder, it’s really important that you write an email and I gave you a sample, as you remember, in the syllabus of what that email could look like. So, let’s keep moving forward.”

So I think it’s just reiterating and normalizing the kind of ways you want students to think about it, just like you want to normalize saying, “Hey, this wasn’t included in the grade. I just want to show that the people who did this assignment their average score was at a B+ level. And the people who didn’t do this assignment, their average score was at a C- level. So I want to reiterate that I’m not including these practice assignments for the grade, but you’re seeing that by doing the practice, you’re going to do well in the performance, just like shooting free throws.”

Kristin [28:54]: Yeah. OK. Alright, so…

Joe [28:56]: You don’t sound entirely convinced, but only one way to find out!

Kristin [29:01]: There’s only one way to find out! I think part of me—like some of my background is in data science and information visualization—So one reason why part of me is a little skeptical is that there’s plenty of research that shows that people resonate more with anecdotes than with numbers.

So that’s the thing that keeps coming to mind for me.

Joe [29:22]: Yeah. And so teachers will do that. They will, along with, as long as they have a student’s permission. They’ll have students testify to like, “Hey, I didn’t turn in my assignment on time because I had something big come up in my life. And I took another couple days and I just felt so much more relaxed in doing this work. And I just know I did better.” I mean, you can do surveys of students that have them report on this or to give comments about it. There’s all kinds of ways. But I just go back to the theme of normalizing what kind of teaching and learning community you’re trying to create in the classroom. and being explicit with how the way that you grade aligns with that community culture.

Kristin [30:01]: Okay. Yeah, it’s definitely a case of like I just have to metaphorically “bite the bullet” and just go for it, just to see what happens.

Joe [30:07]: Yeah. And just do a small thing, do it for one class work assignment or one participation or one homework or two homeworks before a quiz, just to see what happens.

Kristin [30:17]: Yeah. I feel like this segues us nicely to the questions that I’m asking every single guest this season. What do you suggest we do for something we can do right now? Something that we should try and accomplish within a year? And something that we should try and accomplish in five years?

Joe [30:31]: Yeah. So I think that—it’s a great question. I think too often in education and as academics, we value the planning process so much that we spend an enormous amount of time planning and then launching something. And I think we have to get better at taking small risks with less planning and less, sort of, stakes. And so, like the example I gave, which is, “Hey, for this next, quiz cycle, we’re going to try this,” or, “For this next unit, I’m going to try this,” or, “For these five students, I’m going to try this thing.”

So things on a really small scale so that if it doesn’t go well, you haven’t lost that much. And if it does, it starts to build confidence and momentum and Information that you can apply as you grow it larger and larger. So in the short term, try one thing or two things that are different and just see what happens. And ask students how it went and what they thought of it or colleagues. In the medium term, I can’t remember the length of time you set for the medium term…

Kristin [31:36]: About a year.

Joe [31:37]: So I think, more of the same. So I think, if you’re planning on, you know, maybe second semester changing something in your syllabus—Oh, I guess this is airing at the beginning of second semester—If next fall, you want to change something in your syllabus. Try out some different things now so that you can feel confident and comfortable and have some experience under your belt when you build something new into your syllabus in the fall. And I think, as I talk about in my book, there’s sort of different levels of challenge for some of the different strategies. Like, when I was talking about not using points. That’s pretty tough. And you cannot get there, you know, right away. You’ve got to, I mean in the zone of proximal development, you’ve got to start with thinking like, “How am I not going to include participation?” or, “How could I use a 0 to 4 scale instead of a 0 to 100?” or not give extra credit. Like those are kind of early steps to take.

And as you go down this road, you’ll find that other things start to change, like your assessment design and your curriculum sequencing, potentially, and your relationships with students. And you’ll just continue to build momentum and take on bigger and bigger bites of what grading more equitably can look like. And, “One of the things that I love,” the faculty told me, “is like now that I’ve seen the way that traditional grading is so… undermines good teaching and learning and hurts equity. I can’t unsee it.” And so you really have no choice but to kind of go down this road and there’s lots of ways to go down it and lots of different speeds to go. But it’s the right road to go down.

Kristin [33:15]: Anything that is more of a long term, like five, maybe even 10 year goal?

Joe [33:20]: Yeah. I mean, I think ultimately you want to get enough experience and confidence and data around the effects of some of the different things that you can share them with colleagues and build some consistency within departments, certainly within courses. So everyone who’s teaching CS1, I mean, teaching that number of students—you probably don’t have too many other CS1 teachers—But you certainly would want to have uniform grading policies within a course. And, even better, if you had some common grading policies within a department. And then beyond that to a college.

So that’s a long process. I mean, that is a five year, ten year process. But if, you know, a school district with 13,000 students can do it, you know, and hundreds and hundreds of teachers, there’s no reason why a department or a college within a university couldn’t do the same thing over time. And it just pays off in huge ways where now every professor doesn’t have to re-introduce a new grading system, which is what we have now. But you’ve got consistency across teachers and coherence, all based on evidence that those practices work better for the students who serve in the classes you teach.

Kristin [34:31]: So, and with that, let’s close out with TL;DL, too long, didn’t listen. What would you say is the most important thing you’d want our listeners to get out of our conversation?

Joe [34:42]: That we don’t need to and shouldn’t continue to use our inherited grading practices that are 100 years old. That there are actually research-based, more equitable ways of grading that better support teaching and learning and and better support our relationships in classrooms, and they’re worth exploring.

Kristin [35:01]: Awesome, and I will self promote for you and say everyone should read your book because it’s awesome.

Joe [35:05]: Well, thank you. Thanks! Yes, many colleges and universities are adopting these in small book study groups and as part of their training and onboarding for new faculty. So it’s really rewarding.

Kristin [35:18]: Awesome. Alright, well, thank you so much for joining us, Joe.

Joe [35:19]: Thank you.

Kristin [35:20]: And this was the CS-Ed Podcast hosted by me, Kristin Stephens-Martinez at Duke University, and produced by Amarachi Anakaraonye. And, remember, teaching computer science is more than just knowing computer science. And I hope you found something useful for your teaching today.


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