Laird Jonas has been teaching AP Statistics for 20 years. He was an AP reader in 2010. He currently teaches at Baruch College Campus high school (BCCHS) where he has been the school’s Data Specialist as well as a member of the Equity Team. He plays a supporting role to the advisor of the Black and Latino Students Union. Last year, he participated in the Grading for Equity Institute and completed the course led by Joe Feldman and the Crescendo Education Group Team.
What is Grading for Equity?
In my experience, students are becoming more and more aware of how low teacher expectations have affected their perception of themselves as learners. Some of them have gone a step further in attributing this low expectation to their race or gender or background or learning disability or a combination of these groups. Many traditional grading practices are built on this difference in expectations for different groups of learners and because the expectations are often based on
race and class, they can severely affect the grades of Black and Brown students and students from low-income families. Laura J. Fink and Thomas R. Gusky 2019
Grading for Equity revises traditional grading practices by introducing alternative assessment methods and new grading policies that are aimed at motivating all students to rise to high expectations that are not influenced by preconceived notions about any group of students or any type of learners. This is done by creating opportunities for students to demonstrate what they understand without penalizing them for what they don’t understand. Instead of providing the one-size-fits-all support for all students, support is tailor-made to meet each student’s need. Joe Feldman, in his book, Grading for Equity, affirms, “If grades are here to stay, we want them and our grading practices to promote the best and most aspirational thinking of what our students are capable of as learners, regardless of their race, their first language, their family’s income, or their previous educational experiences, and to similarly support the best of what we are capable of as educators.”
Why Grade for Equity in AP Statistics?
AP Statistics might not seem to be the place to examine equity. AP Statistics seems to choose its students: “good” at math, highly motivated, and responsible learners. However, I have seen students who have had a negative experience in the past in math succeed in AP Statistics. I have seen students whose attitude as a learner was impacted by low teacher expectation do well in AP Statistics. This year, I had the pleasure of teaching my first AP Statistics ICT class. Along with my amazing co-teacher, we saw students with different learning needs from different race, gender, and class learn Statistics. Not everyone passed the AP exam but based on their work throughout the year culminating with their final project, they are leaving the class as bright young statisticians.
In AP Statistics, students are required to communicate their understanding by demonstrating their solutions and justifying their responses. I think of our journey in the course as a yearlong conversation with my students, sometimes with the whole class, sometimes with a group and sometimes one-on-one. Grading for Equity asks us to have ongoing conversations with our students to listen to their thinking, to assess their understanding and to get to know and support them based on their needs. There seem to be a convergence of interests between our expectations of our students in AP Statistics and the goals of equitable grading that is centered around this ongoing conversation with each student. If we can find ways to create opportunities for students to share their ideas about their understanding of statistics and at the same time reveal who they are as learners and what they need from us to be successful, we will be making that shift towards a more equitable learning environment and a more equitable grading system.
How Do We Grade for Equity in AP Statistics?
My AP Statistics students’ grades are based on the following criteria: Test/Projects, Homework, and Engagement. Equitable grading led me to the following adjustments in these areas.
My students do take in-class tests and quizzes. They also have a midterm during January Regents Week. They are taking the AP exam; therefore, they have to practice responding to these questions in a timed setting. The tests or quizzes are graded, and the students get feedback on their responses. The students have the option of doing test corrections, however test corrections are done in person by appointments. They can meet with me before school, after school, during their free periods or during lunch. After reviewing their test with the feedback, we meet one on one to discuss their mistakes and misconceptions. These meetings create opportunities to address the requirement of equitable grading:
i. Students have an opportunity to share their understanding?
ii. I can communicate how I see each student as a learner and provide support that addresses their individual needs.
Some of these meetings lasts 2 minutes while others could take as much as 10 minutes. During this time, I get to meet students where they are, learn what they need to work on and providing the support based on their needs. In this setting, I often learn about other issues that are affecting their learning and I use this information to provide the appropriate support.
Time does not allow me to do projects during the year, but I am a big fan of the End-of-year project, End-of-year project, on Stats Medic. I think this is a great way to celebrate the year following the AP exam. I have on many occasions asked my students the infamous question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” A friend of mine instead asks young people, “What problem in the world they want to solve? I have added this question to the End-of-year project. Students choose the problem that they want to solve and they work on the project in class. I tell them that they all get 100 on this project if they choose a problem that they are passionate about and they learn something new. They present their project to the class. If there are students that are not comfortable speaking in front of the class, they have the option of making a video or presenting to me and two other students that they are comfortable with.
We have an award ceremony at the end of the presentations. Students are selected at random to present one of their peers an award for their project. This adds fun and it ensures that students are engaged in each presentation because they don’t know who they will be presenting an award.
It is fascinating to see how quickly the focus shifts from grades to doing their best project. It is also frustrating for them in a good way because they don’t have a typical rubric. Some of them will ask, “How long should it be? My response would be, “How long do you want it to be?” Eventually they begin to own the assignment and I watch in amazement as the motivation moves from extrinsic to intrinsic. This is one of the pillars of equitable grading. Lory Hough, 2019
I continue to struggle with finding ways to effectively assign and grade homework. How do I use homework to assess what my students understand while making them comfortable with revealing what they don’t understanding? How do I assure them that their grade will only reflect their level of understanding and it does not matter how long it takes them to reach that understanding? Some teachers address these questions by not grading homework. Some teachers allow students to redo homework. Some teachers have flexible due dates.
Here is a compromise. I use the Stats Medic lessons, each of which contains a Check Your Understanding. So, I don’t feel the need to give a daily homework assignment. Instead, I assign daily readings or videos prior to the lessons. In lieu of daily homework, I assign a weekly homework. I call it Homework of the Week and my students call it HOW. The HOWs are designed to assess what was taught in a unit or subunit. They are the length of an in-class unit test. However, these HOWs do not replace unit tests; instead, they serve to prepare students for unit tests.
Here is a twist. Students are given the option to complete the HOW within two days after it was assigned. The HOWs are returned with descriptive feedback in time for the students to use the feedback to revise and resubmit the HOW before the due date. A further discussion happens when students are unable to meet the deadlines. Grades are assigned using the same approach as I did with the tests. This might seem overwhelming, but in addition to forgoing some of the daily homework assignments, I cannot ignore Susan Brookhart's compelling argument for power descriptive feedback in her book, “How to Give Effective Feedback to Your Students, 2nd edition” especially when the feedback is given without assigning grade.