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Equitable Assessments & Grading Practices

Nicole Messier, CATE Instructional Designer
December 5, 2022

WHAT? Heading link

Equitable assessments and grading practices emphasize the process of learning versus performance outcomes and the attainment of grades.  Focusing on the process of learning can empower and motivate students by providing opportunities for autonomy, agency, and self-regulation of learning.

Characteristics of Equitable Assessments & Grading Practices

Some characteristics of equitable assessments and grading practices include (Talbert, 2021):

  • Aligns to course goals and learning objectives
  • Respects student diversity
  • Incorporates flexibility and choice
  • Monitors progress
  • Provides feedback
  • Allows for failure through multiple attempts

Equitable Assessments

Please select the following characteristics of equitable assessments and grading practices to learn more.

WHY? Heading link

Equitable assessments and grading practices help to break the cycle of the “minimax principle” (least amount of work for the greatest gain) regarding student motivation and effort. Student motivation shifts from extrinsic motivators (grades) to intrinsic motivators (learning for the sake of learning); where students demonstrate self-regulation of learning and set personal learning goals.

Equitable assessments and grading practices can positively impact students’ learning in several ways (Carberry, 2016; Lindemann, 2011; Katzman, 2021; Schinske, J., 2014; Williams, 2020):

  • Provides reflective practice, metacognition, and opportunities for students to self-assess
  • Supports collaboration and cooperation between peers and instructors
  • Decreases competitiveness between peers
  • Reduces student stress
  • Fosters growth mindset (a belief that ability is developed over time) versus a fixed mindset (a belief that ability doesn’t change)
  • Encourages the use of feedback to learn from mistakes
  • Increases intrinsic motivation, self-efficacy, and student agency
  • Rewards improvement and decreases students’ fear of failure
  • Encourages creativity, innovation, and risk-taking
  • Improves student retention

HOW? Heading link

Start with Course Goals and Objectives

Equitable assessments and grading practices focus on evaluating individual student performance based on defined grading criteria aligned with clear and measurable course goals and learning objectives.

  • Course goals or outcomes are the “big ideas” or essential concepts that you want students to be able to do and know by the end of your course.
  • Weekly or module learning objectives can be designed to break down those “big ideas” into more manageable goals based on specific concepts or themes. These weekly or module learning objectives are then aligned with the course’s assessments, learning activities, and instructional materials.

Each course goal and learning objective should contain a behavior (an action verb) and a condition (or construct) that needs to be met to demonstrate achievement.  For example, in the following learning objective, the action verb is “describe”, and the condition is “past public policy debates…”

  • Describe past public policy debates in the United States that exemplify a broad range of historical and contemporary concerns (from Carnegie Mellon University).

The course goals, learning objectives, and grading criteria can be used to communicate the why behind your assessment and grading practices. Please visit the teaching guide on Rubrics for more information on grading criteria.

Implementing Equitable Assessments and Grading Practices

Consider adding one or more of the following elements to increase the equity of your assessments and grading practices. These elements can be implemented in any size course, discipline, or course modality:

  • Incorporating personal learning goals
  • Supporting executive function skills
  • Providing multiple forms of feedback


  • Re-assessing without penalty & multiple attempts
  • Grading for completeness vs. correctness
  • Anonymous grading
  • Rethinking the grading of participation
  • Adding tokens and other forms of flexibility

Please select the following elements to learn how they can help support student success.

Adopting an Equitable Grading System

Please take a few minutes to consider various equitable grading systems that might work for your course:

  • Criterion-referenced grading
  • Labor-based grading
  • Specifications grading
  • Ungrading

Please select the following grading systems to learn more.



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  • This work is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International.
  • This license requires that reusers give credit to the creator. It allows reusers to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format, for noncommercial purposes only.

Please use the following citation to cite this guide:

Messier, N. (2022). “Equitable Assessments & Grading Practices.” Center for the Advancement of Teaching Excellence at the University of Illinois Chicago. Retrieved [today’s date] from


REFERENCES Heading link