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Enhance Equity in Your Course: Part 5 – Grade Equitably

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Grade Equitably

Report card from 1949 showing grades for typing, geometry and english classes.

Learn how implicit bias can affect grading

We don’t want to have bias influence our grading, but our implicit biases could be affecting how we score student work and assign final grades in a course. Uncovering and working toward removing bias requires looking at our biases from many angles. Inaccurate judgments have the potential not only to alter grades but could negatively affect teacher-student relationships, distort a student’s self-concept, or reduce opportunities to learn (4).

In this post, we are focused on the tools in D2L that can help reduce bias in grading. We acknowledge that technology on its own cannot eliminate bias, but it can help us respond objectively to student work. Below, we offer some suggestions that you can implement in your D2L course with little effort.

Anonymize grading

Research has indicated that biases can influence how a teacher grades student work. For example, in one study, 6th grade teachers gave lower scores to girls in math even though the girls scored better on national standardized tests (2). Another study showed that having prior knowledge of a student’s performance can bias how grades are assigned on future work (3) (also known as halo-bias).

Anonymous Marking is a tool in Brightspace which allows you to review your students’ assignment submissions without knowing the identity of the student. While it is not a one-size-fits-all solution to addressing bias, it can be a useful tool to reduce the influence of implicit bias.

  • Create an Anonymous Assignment
  • Use the blind marking feature for grading short answer questions in quizzes
  • If you are not using the LMS to accept student work, ask students not to put names on their assignments, rather have them use their G number
  • If you wish to give feedback that is attuned to individual students, consider writing personalized feedback after scoring anonymously
Grading habits

Grading can be demanding and overwhelming at times. Have you ever thought about how your mood, attitude, or behaviors around grading or toward students may be affecting how you determine a student’s grade? Below are a few tips for setting yourself up for an objective grading session.

  • Don’t grade hungry – when we are tired and hungry we fall back on our defaults which may include biases (1)
  • Take breaks while grading (1)
  • Don’t always grade in alphabetical order
Share your practice

We hope this series has been helpful in providing you with actionable suggestions for increasing equity in your courses. Do you have suggestions or methods you want to share about how you have worked to reduce bias in your grading practices? We’d love to hear what you’re doing! Please make a comment below to start the conversation.


(1) Gordon, Anne, Better Than Our Biases: Using Psychological Research to Inform Our Approach to Inclusive, Effective Feedback (February 1, 2021). 27 Clinical Law Review 195 (2021), Duke Law School Public Law & Legal Theory Series No. 2021-28, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3777546

(2) Lavy, V. and Sand. E. 2015. On the origins of gender human capital gaps: short and long term consequences of teachers’ stereotypical biases. National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, MA. http://www.nber.org/papers/w20909.

(3) Malouff, & Stein, Sarah & Bothma, & Coulter, & Emmerton, Ashley. (2014). Evidence showing that keeping students anonymous helps prevent halo-based grading bias. Cogent Psychology. 1. 10.1080/23311908.2014.988937.

(4) Cohen, G. L., & Steele, C. M. (2002). A barrier of mistrust: How negative stereotypes affect cross-race mentoring. In J. Aronson (Ed.), Improving academic achievement: Impact of psychological factors on education (pp. 303–327). Academic Press. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-012064455-1/50018-X


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x by Peter Seaman 7 months ago

Thanks, Alyson, for the post. I’m interested in the anonymized grading features in D2L, but I do wonder whether they will really advance equity since they don’t account for differences in student populations. For example, students who are not native speakers of English tend to make similar errors in their written English, but it seems unfair to me to penalize them for these errors on the same level as native speakers. But you wouldn’t know who is a native speaker and who is a non-native speaker if you anonymize your assignment submissions. The LMS seems to treat all students as if they are exactly the same, like “batch processing,” so I see a continued role for thoughtful and sentient instructors who treat each student as an individual and assess accordingly. Thanks.

x by Marjan Rotting 7 months ago

I think what is being missed here is focusing on equity by ethnic group or country of origin only. There is another, often overlooked aspect, their learning modalities. Students have different pathways to the brain, visual, kinesthetic, word, auditory etc. If a student has a visual mind and is only taught with words, they will not have the same ability to comprehend the subject matter. Thus, that student will not be on a level playing field with others. Something as simple as a concussion, troubled marriage or difficult work hours can alter someone’s ability to learn. Always focusing on ethnicity or country of origin is not enough. It is not a matter of lowering expectations but shifting them. It is our job as teachers to identify our student’s weaknesses and help them overcome them: each one regardless of country of origin or ethnicity. But taking the time to get to know our students and teaching and grading to their specific modality requires that we teach them about modalities and have them self asses their learning modalities during our introductory lesson. By allowing students to identify how they learn and calling out these specific aspects of our lectures and grading, they will learn to succeed.

x by Alyson 7 months ago

Thank you for the comment Peter! I agree that it is really important to know when using technology in a course is appropriate and when personalized interaction is necessary. Do you have some tips on grading equitably when personalized interaction is necessary?

x by Alyson 7 months ago

Marjan, your comment is so fitting! In the next post, I will be sharing some ideas for incorporating flexibility in assignments. As a person who struggles with executive functioning, I find lectures to be the least effective way for me to learn, yet that was the main way courses were set up when I was in school. I’d love to hear about how you provide opportunities for students to self-assess their learning modalities.

x by Morgan Chase 7 months ago

I used anonymous grading for my Math 95 exam last week, and it worked pretty well. I was afraid that I would lose an opportunity to get a better insight into how individual students are grasping the material — in the remote environment, I need all the connections I can get — but it was easy to go back and skim through the D2L gradebook and click on the feedback to see who did what.

The best part about anonymous grading is that when I suspected someone of cheating but couldn’t prove it, I could honestly say “I don’t know who you are because I am grading the exam anonymously. It looks like you may have used an online algebra solver for this question, but I can’t prove it. If you didn’t, no harm done. If you did, don’t try it on the final exam because I might be able to prove it.” All my suspicions were based on the way the student solved the problems on this exam, not their name or picture or past performance.

x by Jessica Bernards 6 months ago

Alyson – LOVE the idea of using the anonymize grading feature in D2L. I didn’t even realize it existed. I’m going to start using it this week when I grade finals.

Thank you SO MUCH for the work you’ve put into this!