English professor admits she doesn’t grade student papers over ‘concerns with equity’ 

Dr. Elisabeth Gruner, a professor of English at the University of Richmond recently admitted that she has stopped grading students’ work as an exercise in social and racial justice. Gruner wrote in an op-ed for the Conversation stating that she stopped grading written assignments four years ago and that her only regret is that she didn’t start sooner. She claims it does not benefit the student and that the long-standing practice has become an outdated way of educational assessment.

According to Gruner, grading is “highly inequitable, demotivating, and increases students’ stress.” She now assesses her students’ academic achievement using a system she calls “ungrading.” Gruner argued that she wanted the students to focus on the feedback she offered on their written papers and that “removing the grade forced students to pay attention to my comments.” She also said she “hates grading” and wanted to be “free from the tyranny of determining a grade.” Additionally, she explained that she uses “ungrading” as her method because she “was concerned with equity.”

She stated, “For almost 10 years I have been studying inclusive pedagogy, which focuses on ensuring that all students have the resources they need to learn,” noting that her studies “confirmed [her] sense that sometimes what [she] was really grading was a student’s background.” She claimed, “Students with educational privilege came into my classroom already prepared to write A or B papers, while others often had not had the instruction that would enable them to do so. The 14 weeks they spent in my class could not make up for the years of educational privilege their peers had enjoyed.”

​​However, Gruner admitted that, as required by university standards, she must calculate and issue grades to her students at the end of the semester. Gruner complies by refusing to mark individual tasks throughout the semester, instead, providing comments and enough opportunities to amend work. Students then submit their whole portfolio of work for a final assessment at the end of the semester.

She also proposed that if grading is required, at the very least employ the pass/fail approach, which does away with letter or number grades in favor of determining whether a student “passes” or “fails” the class. Gruner called the use of pass/fail a stress-relieving strategy and a solution to address disparities among pupils of color but she bemoaned the fact that many “later resumed grading, not acknowledging the ways that traditional assessments can both perpetuate inequity and impede learning.”

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