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Why districts should revise grading practices in the age of AI

June 14, 2024, By Margaret Sullivan, Associate Director, Research

Up to 40% of traditional student course grades include non-academic criteria, like class participation or homework completion. Because these behavioral elements are highly subjective in nature, they may not directly reflect which skills students have and have not mastered. As a result, traditional grading may inadvertently penalize students who struggle to meet non-academic expectations—oftentimes reinforcing socioeconomic disparities.

Many districts are revising their policies to include more equitable grading practices—an approach that ensures student grades reflect what a student knows rather than how they behaved, whether they have opportunities for extra credit, or how long it took them to learn a concept. In this approach, non-academic factors like participation are removed from final course grades. Instead, students receive feedback on behavioral elements through alternative methods—like additional in-class practice or tutoring to help master the skill.

Recently, a new factor entered the fair grading conversation. The rise of ChatGPT has educators scrambling for ways to “AI-proof” their assignments and ensure students are fairly assessed for their learning.

Equitable grading practices are more important now than ever

While the possibility of student AI use might tempt educators to emphasize behavioral factors like class participation, this approach can be misleading. Relying on behavioral demonstrations of learning places undue weight on social abilities, potentially misrepresenting the understanding of students who grasp the material but have different social skills or capital.

Nevertheless, embracing fairer grading practices doesn’t mean lowering expectations for students. In reality, equitable grading practices are an often misunderstood approach to increasing rigor—in addition to equity—in instruction.

Three reasons equitable grading practices are essential today

1. A sharper focus on mastery learning is a natural AI-proofing strategy

By segmenting skill mastery from behavior, equitable grading practices provide a clearer picture of students’ understanding in core classes. This allows teachers to better tailor their instruction to meet students’ academic needs. A stronger emphasis on skills reduces the likelihood that assignments assess a standalone product (like a final essay or math calculation where AI assistance might mask student misunderstandings) instead of students’ individual skill mastery.

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    How teachers can use AI to support this element of equitable grading

    AI can assist in creating student rubrics that include categories assessing critical learning processes, such as creating a draft, editing based on feedback, or submitting a “version history” in virtual assignments.

2. Prioritizing in-class assignment completion reduces the chances of at-home AI assistance

Equitable grading practices decrease the weight traditionally placed on homework completion and instead provide scores calculated by authentic demonstrations of understanding in class. By focusing on in-class assignments, teachers can monitor student progress and reduce the likelihood of AI being used to complete work when it isn’t an appropriate tool for the given assignment.

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    How teachers can use AI to support this element of equitable grading

    AI can help create student examples of varying levels, providing a clear benchmark for students to aim for during class activities.

3. More frequent formative assessment unmasks learning gaps earlier and decreases the likelihood of desperate students reaching for AI solutions

Equitable grading practices involve increasing the frequency of formative assessments, allowing teachers to identify and address learning gaps before they become significant issues. With instruction more closely tailored to real-time learning needs, students have less motivation to seek shortcuts with AI-powered applications.

To help districts transition towards equitable grading, EAB has developed an Equitable Grading Audit for district leaders. Download the audit to begin assessing and adjusting your grading policies moving forward.

Learn more about adopting equitable grading practices and increasing student psychological safety in the Student Behavior Resource Center.

Margaret Sullivan

Margaret Sullivan

Associate Director, Research

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