Implementation of Mastery Grading Toward Rightful Presence

Moving a step closer to justice-centered CS education.

Abstract currently pending submission, results forthcoming.

The design of instructional assessment ecology can affect student engagement, motivation, and experience in a course. Research has shown that traditional, single-attempt, points-based grading in particular can increase anxiety and avoidance of challenging courses. Rather than serve to motivate students, traditional grading can demotivate students and reinforce negative self-assessments of ability when grades fail to validate student effort and learning. When situated in the broader assessment ecology, traditional grading that emphasizes normative value judgments is incompatible with frameworks for moving “beyond equity as inclusion” and toward rightful presence: justice-oriented teaching and learning predicated on the deconstruction of oppressive power dynamics. While changing grading practices alone is not sufficient to achieve rightful presence, it can be a necessary first step toward creating a more just and equitable classroom.

This poster describes our experiences with specifications-based mastery grading in two large, undergraduate introductory programming courses enrolling nearly 1,400 students in total. Rather than averaging together point scores from multiple assignments, final grades were awarded based on the number of satisfactory assignments completed by the end of the quarter. Smaller assignments were graded either satisfactory (S) or not yet (N), while larger assignments were graded on an expanded, 4-level scale. Students were given the opportunity to revise and resubmit any unsatisfactory work at regular intervals throughout the quarter.

We seek to understand how students perceive mastery grading contributes to a growth mindset. In feedback collected at mid-quarter, in both courses, students almost unanimously agreed that the opportunity to resubmit work facilitated learning and reduced stress around assignments. We will also present: feedback collected in the end-of-quarter course evaluation on growth mindset and motivations for revising work; considerations for implementing mastery grading in large-enrollment courses, such as handling resubmissions; and faculty conceptions of normative grade distributions and rightful presence.