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North Dakota State University research fellow awarded $300,000 to study 'equitable classroom and grading practices,’ award funded by COVID relief program
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North Dakota State University research fellow awarded $300,000 to study 'equitable classroom and grading practices,’ award funded by COVID relief program

North Dakota State University postdoctoral research fellow Tara Slominski was awarded $300,000 in July to study "equitable classroom and grading practices for rural and nontraditional students." According to the award's abstract, all or a portion of the research will be funded by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which was initiated to "deliver immediate relief for American workers" as an emergency response COVID relief program.

The award was granted by the National Science Foundation and is slated to begin on January 1, 2023.

The College Fix reported that Slominski and her supervisor at NDSU, Jennifer Momsen, have been exploring alternative options to traditional grading practices to create more "equitable" learning environments for students.

"Common classroom practices, such as grading and the use of grades to assess knowledge and performance, may have unintended consequences on students who invariably derive an awareness of their own academic abilities from the results of those grading structures," stated the postdoctoral research fellowship project abstract. "In fact, these traditional practices may inadvertently create and promote inequities among different student groups, particularly in large enrollment courses, but these issues have largely been unexplored."

Slominski's research project hypothesized that "nontraditional and rural students are especially vulnerable to the limitations of traditional grading when used in high enrollment, gateway STEM courses."

The project aims to provide educators with a new grading approach that addresses "the systemic inequitable" aspects of current grading methods and promotes "more equitable learning environments for students broadly."

Momsen, a professor and the Biological Sciences Director at NDSU, has extensively researched alternative grading approaches to create "equitable" courses.

In a recent presentation titled, "Creating Equitable Courses Through Alternative Grading Approaches," Momsen argued that traditional grading methods can be "inaccurate," "biased," and "demotivating." The professor's presentation stated that grades do not always accurately represent a student's knowledge or learning process.

Momsen detailed changes she made to her classroom, including allowing exams to be retaken, implementing self-graded assignments, and suggesting due dates. In addition, the professor stated that she no longer penalizes late work, puts a number or letter grade on assignments, or uses a mean to calculate final grades for students.

In an August 2020 blog post, Momsen explained how she determines a final letter grade for students since it is a university requirement.

"I did not adopt the usual 50% is an F (meaning a student would need to demonstrate proficiency on 5+ standards to even pass the class)," Momsen wrote. "Borrowing an idea from Grading for Equity, I took a 4-pt scale approach. Grades of F should be quite rare, only 'given' when a student never shows or completes any assignments. Experience has taught me that in this course, you only fail if you deliberately do nothing. The remaining grades, A-D, I break out evenly across the 8 standards. This helps reorient the course away from failure – there are far more ways to succeed."

Slominski did not reply to a request for comment, and Momsen declined to comment, the College Fix reported.

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Candace Hathaway

Candace Hathaway

Candace Hathaway is a staff writer for Blaze News.
@candace_phx →