Josh Eyler

The Call is Coming from Inside the House: How Grades Can Undermine Learning and Jeopardize Our Students' Wellbeing

Getting a good grade is supposed to be a marker of excellence, but research shows that grades diminish our intrinsic motivation and emphasize the outcome rather than the process that leads to what researchers refer to as deep learning. Even worse, rates of anxiety and depression have spiked dramatically, and academic stress tied to grades is a leading cause of this escalation. In this talk, Eyler will offer a range of strategies we can try, both in our classrooms and at the institutional level, in order to mitigate the damaging effects of grades.

Linda Nilson

Specifications Grading: Restoring Rigor, Motivating Students, and Saving Faculty Time

Colleges and universities generally require that we submit letter grades to represent student performance, but how we determine those grades is up to us. Unfortunately, the way we have been grading student work for many decades earns low marks on a list of criteria for assessing grading systems. This workshop presents an alternative system, specifications (“specs”) grading, that does better, especially in motivating students to achieve outcomes and produce high-quality work. Better yet, it saves faculty time. The system works effectively because it gives students more choices and control while holding their work to high academic standards. The purest form of this new system offers a new gestalt on assessment, combining three elements: satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading of all assignments and tests, a token system that allows students limited re-do’s and flexibility, and “bundles” of assessments associated with learning outcomes and final letter grades. Participants will see examples of actual courses that use specs grading—specifically, models of specifications for different kinds of assignments and exemplary bundles of assessments that vary by the amount and/or challenge of the work required. By the end of the keynote, faculty will be able to do the following:

    • Articulate criteria for evaluating a grading system and use these to critically evaluate our predominant grading system

    • Distinguish types of mastery grading

    • Explain how and why specifications (specs) grading works

    • Adapt one or more of their courses to a pure or synthetic version of specs grading, including turning assignment directions into specs, bundling assessments, developing a token system, and revising their syllabus accordingly.

Poster session abstracts

Participants can discuss posters with presenters during a designated session. They are also available to view online by clicking the title of each entry.

Using Mastery Scores to Facilitate Dropping Course Levels Mid-Semester

Caira Bongers, Bryn Athyn College
Addressing drop/withdraw/fail rates in college calculus courses is an ongoing concern for many institutions. Using a mastery test grade system can facilitate a pairing of Calculus I with an Elements of Calculus course, such that students can drop from one to the other mid-semester, avoiding lost opportunities for earned credit for students, and avoiding complicated reassessments for professors.

Mastery Grading to Improve R Proficiency in Statistics

Carter Johnson, University of Utah
Statistics for Biologists was originally designed with an R programming lab component, and switching to a mastery grading scheme has helped improve student R proficiency. I’ve taught classes with these lab components before, and always found it difficult to get student buy-in on the programming aspects and integrate it with the rest of the course. By incorporating a revise & resubmit scheme for R lab assignments, along with a mastery-based test system to check students’ ability to understand R output, students’ R proficiency was improved. In the independent final project, students were able to analyze their own data in R, formulate their own questions, run the corresponding statistical analyses in R, and produce beautifully formatted R-markdown files. Mastery grading helped better integrate the R lab assignments into the course and helped students better learn the material.

When and How Should We Care About Maintaining Proficiency: Skill vs Content Standards

Tamar More, University of Portland
One of the dilemmas in setting up standards based grading is the perennial question: do we assess only for mastery, and track only the highest score on a standard? Or do we care about students showing they maintain that proficiency? For content standards - students demonstrating understanding of concepts and applying them - the former is appropriate and certainly simpler to implement. But, in introductory physics at least, many of our goals are skill based. We want students to draw and use diagrams, to be systematic in solving problem, to apply math skills, to check their results, and so on, and would like to use Standards Based Grading (SBG) to encourage and assess their continued application of these skills. Indeed, one of the strengths of SBG is in making the assessment of skills explicit. I offer some examples from physics, contrast the way skills and content play into SBG, and invite you to engage in a conversation on the topic.

Pass/No-Pass Grading on Every Assignment and Activity in a Geometry Course for Pre-Service PreK-8 Teachers

Chris Oehrlein, Oklahoma City Community College
The presenter will describe the sophomore-level Geometry and Measurement course designed for pre-service teachers. The presenter will then explain the grading scheme for both individual assignments and the course grade. Rather than strict standards or objective-based grading, assignments are deemed to have been completed in a satisfactory-enough manner to earn a “pass” or not. The poster will display the different types of assignments, what constitutes a “pass” on each type, the retake/redo opportunities, and the process of assigning an overall course grade that reflects the standards-based approach and stays within the department guidelines.

A Discussion about Growing Students’ Mindset from Mastery Grade-based Learning for College Context

Jing Xie, Northeastern Illinois University
As known, Mastery Grade-based learning provides students opportunities to have a study on their own pace. Under this learning setting, students are encouraged to develop their agency about self-regulation including taking time management, assimilating learning goals, optimizing learning strategies, and improving attention levels, or providing feedback to others. Considering the benefits of implementing a Mastery Grade-based learning policy, I believe abundantly reflecting students’ learning difficulty through the Mastery Grade-based learning model in college context has been effectively implemented to fulfill teaching and learning objectives of subjects such as Calculus, which ultimately fosters student growth mindset if they are prepared. My proposal regarding mastery Grade-based learning models will draw attention on nurturing growth mindset of college students who are requested to the Mastery-based grading system from a traditional grading system. That is, this discussion aims at helping students grow mindset in a way of shifting to Mastery Grade-based Learning setting from tradition or standard-based grading models.

Learning Outcomes and Grade Specifications in a Formal Logic Course

Richard Zach, University of Calgary
Formal logic is a staple of undergraduate philosophy departments. Courses are typically run as straight lectures, with problem sets and exams. I will describe a design for such a course that uses a flipped online model, with three weekly activities: short problem sets, multiple-choice quizzes, and timed exam problems. Grading is automated, using the online Carnap platform, which also gives students instant feedback. Each week corresponds to one of twelve learning outcomes. Final grades are assigned based on completing a number of weekly activities (specification-based grading replaces the usual points system).

Tech Talk abstracts

Tech Talks are quick and energetic presentations about technology tools that can help make mastery grading work for you.

Masters of Discord (link to the Discord Server for this talk)

Brian Clair, Saint Louis University
You want all your students active in class, every day. Discord gets students talking in their favorite language - with their phones. I’ll show you how it works, how students use it, and why you need Discord in your mastery grading class.

Using the CheckIt Platform to Quickly Generate Assessments and Reassessments

Steven Clontz, University of South Alabama
The Checkit Platform at https://checkit.clontz.org allows instructors to quickly generate assessments and reassessments as PDFs and within their existing LMS (Canvas and D2L Brightspace, with more planned for the future). This presentation will demo how to use the platform as a free assessment layer for your Fall 2021 course, and discuss future plans for the platform.

Instructor and student grade books to keep track of mastery grading progress using Excel

Jason Elsinger, Florida Southern College
No doubt mastery based grading lends itself to a large collection of data for each student, and organizing that data efficiently becomes paramount for the instructor. The grade book I set up is an excel file that includes a summary of the best attempt for every problem from every student, their total progress from assessments and from homework. In addition, I also have the mastery rate (%) for each student and a histogram showing those percentages for each student. All of the above can be updated after every assessment using a button macro. In addition to my own grade book, I also set up an excel grade book for my students to use to help them keep track of their own progress. Included in this excel file is a place for them to put all grades from the course, and a summary of their progress toward each letter grade. In particular, progress bars are used to give the visual of progress made. In this pop talk, I will showcase the features of my two grade books and how they can be adapted for use in other classes.

Managing Reassessments Using LaTeX/Overleaf

Abby Noble, Middle Georgia State University
This talk is a quick overview of how I set up my LaTeX/Overleaf project to efficiently organize and typeset my assessments. Includes tips on managing large files and streamlining the process for consistent assessments. The material covered is accessible for LaTeX/Overleaf beginners, and a copy of the template will be shared with anyone interested.

Using python code to generate progress reports

Kristi Closser, California State University - Fresno
The gradebooks associated with learning management systems are generally not designed to work with mastery grading schemes, but incredibly useful for auto scoring certain types of assignments, especially when dealing with large classes. This presentation will discuss the use of Python, a flexible and open source programming language, for generating and sending individualized progress reports from a directly downloaded gradebook or from a general excel spreadsheet.

Sync, Share, and Streamline II: Using Google Sheets to Support any Mastery Grading Structure

Kyle Evans, Trinity College
Google Sheets has continued to be my go-to resource for organizing and sharing Mastery grading progress with students. In this presentation, I will share how my Mastery grading structure has evolved over my 5 semesters of experience and share my templates (with instructions) that support various structures of grading.

"I did a Thing!" abstracts

"I did a Thing!" is a smorgasbord of all things mastery grading-related.

Learning Reports – Using Metacognition to Promote Effective Study Skills in Freshmen Engineering Courses

Kimberly Frith, University of Wyoming
The instructor incorporated self-regulated learning activities within an online, asynchronous freshman engineering course to help students “learn how to learn.” By emphasizing academic support resources and reflections on their own learning, students picked up effective study habits which carried over into other challenging courses.

Transitions from Points to Standards in a Nursing Writing Course: Review of an Example Assignment

Chrystal Lewis, University of South Alabama
Transitioning from the comfort of “points” to standards in education can seem like a daunting task. This brief talk will review the transition of one single assignment from points based to a standards based rubric assignment. Focus will be on clarifying your rubric level categories and defining what you mean.

Going all in for Equity

Stephen Oloo and Francesca Gandini, Kalamazoo College
We discuss our initial impressions of mastery grading, especially the ways in which we feel it has promoted inclusive teaching in our math courses. We found it to be very well suited to teaching students with highly varied levels of preparation. This grading system: (1) made it easy to identify (and early!) each students' particular misconceptions, and (2) translated into practice the “growth mindset” attitude by giving every student the chance to improve and to demonstrate that improvement.

Pillars and Practices: Equity Grading to Motivate All Students

Nolan Fossum, University of San Diego
Pillars and Practices is a framework for shifting instructor and student focus away from performance on tasks to growth in mathematical habits of mind. The "Practices" are the math practice standards and form the basis of the gradebook. The "Pillars"—Engagement, Understanding, Communication, Authenticity—are the guides students use. This model shines a light on students strengths and provides a pathway to success, even if students have significant skill gaps. I will relate examples and stories from my College Algebra class about growth in student identity, agency, and engagement.

Specs-based grading and student motivation in Differential Equations courses

Jakob Kotas, University of Portland, and Mel Henriksen and Mami Wentworth, Wentworth Institute of Technology
We have implemented and studied the effect of specifications-based grading in an Ordinary Differential Equations class at two institutions. In this talk, we will present evidence that students in classes that employed this grading method experienced lower self-reported anxiety than students in traditionally graded courses. Additionally, we will share student feedback that reveals that having multiple opportunities to demonstrate their learning is the main source of their anxiety reduction.