Faculty Learning Community Considers Inclusive Assessments

A faculty learning community is a group of faculty (and others interested in the topic) who meet regularly to work together in an active, collaborative program on a pedagogical or curricular topic of interest.

Carry the Innovation Forward grant recipients Stacy Tantum and Sophia Santillan organized a Faculty Learning Community (FLC) for the academic year 2021-2022 about Inclusive Assessment for Quantitative Disciplines. This group included nine faculty, three undergraduates, a graduate student and a staff member who met approximately every three weeks for the academic year. They discussed a variety of assessment practices and read the book Grading for Equity by Joe Feldman.

In September of 2022, faculty participated in two panel discussions: one panel included Rebecca Simmons and Sophia Santillan (Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science) and Shira Viel and Sarah Schott (Mathematics). The other panel included Maria Tackett (Statistical Science), Stacy Tantum (Electrical and Computer Engineering) and Tori Akin (Mathematics). A complete list of participants is available at the end of this post.

The participants had already been using some research-based practices such as grading anonymously, using rubrics, providing responsive feedback, not using curves, allowing regrades and providing more opportunities for assessment rather than relying on a few high-stakes assessments. Each participant brought useful experiences and ideas to the group.

At the panel discussion, participants began by explaining why they joined the FLC. All participants were motivated to make grading more equitable and standards-based. Some of their specific intentions included:

  • Tori Akin pointed out that students are motivated and stressed by assessments, and ambitiously wanted to try to make grading and assessment a positive experience for students.
  • Maria Tackett realized that she could better align her course objectives and assessments and wanted to rethink what grading could look like in a project-based course.
  • Stacy Tantum wanted to encourage all of her students to work towards mastery of the material, so that she could be assured that they were qualified engineers.
  • Sophia Santillan wanted to have equitable assessments, acknowledging that some students had more resources than others.

Other reasons for participating included being able to discuss similar challenges of grading in quantitative courses with a trusted group.

Each participant learned from the group discussions, and changed their assessment and grading practices. They helped each other implement group quizzes, and consider different types of rubrics and how to communicate them. Several gave students intermediate deadlines and opportunities for revision and resubmission for projects. Most participants increased the amount of feedback they gave students, and offered students more opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge.

Participants were intrigued by the idea of public exams, where a draft of the assessment (with some parts of the actual questions redacted) is provided to the students before the test date. Seeing the exam format ahead of time may reduce student stress, be more equitable, and allow students to prepare for the type of questions and exam format. Dr. Wiggins, public exam pioneer, shared his exams with the group to help them consider how to use this system. Similarly, one of the participating students shared the experiences of her relative, a math instructor at another university, who gives students all of the possible problems that could be on the exam. Both ideas were discussed, and in some cases, attempted.

The group discussed the “hidden curriculum”, acknowledging that students with some backgrounds were conversant with the norms around college classes but others were not. To help students who may not have this knowledge, many participants were more explicit about the purposes of office hours. Faculty discussed whether and how to increase flexibility around deadlines and how any flexibility may be better communicated to all students so that all could benefit.

The participants were motivated and inspired by their reading of the book Grading for Equity and changed their grading practices to use a reduced grading scale (for example, using a traditional 4 point letter scale rather than 0-100) on assignments, and emphasized feedback rather than grades. Everyone used some of the ideas from this book to rethink their teaching and grading practices.

One of the participating undergraduates, Grace Dessert, was motivated by the discussion to write an opinion piece for the Duke Chronicle, Duke learning is transactional; how we can do better. She describes how the culture of Duke undergraduates around grading is not focused on learning, and observed how this works against inclusive grading practices.

All of the participants found new tools and new motivations and will continue to modify their assessment practices to help all students succeed. They plan to continue meeting informally to learn from and support each other.


  • Tori Akin, Assistant Professor of the Practice, Mathematics
  • Elizabeth Bucholz, Associate Professor of the Practice, Biomedical Engineering
  • Genevieve Lipp, Assistant Professor of the Practice, Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Sophia Santillan, Associate Professor of the Practice, Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science
  • Sarah Schott, Associate Professor of the Practice, Mathematics 
  • Rebecca Simmons, Associate Professor of the Practice, Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science
  • Maria Tackett, Assistant Professor of the Practice, Statistical Science
  • Stacy Tantum, Associate Professor of the Practice, Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Shira Viel, Assistant Professor of the Practice, Mathematics
  • Jessica Centers, Graduate Student, Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Grace Dessert, Undergraduate Student, recently graduated
  • Naomi Rubin, Undergraduate Student
  • Caroline Tang, Undergraduate Student


Dessert, Grace (2022)  Duke learning is transactional; how we can do better.  Duke Chronicle. https://www.dukechronicle.com/article/2022/04/042622-dessert-grad-grading-stem  

Duke Learning Innovation Alternative Strategies for Assessment and Grading 

Feldman, Joe. (2019) Grading for Equity: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How It Can Transform Schools and Classrooms. First edition. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin, a SAGE publishing company.

Stephens-Martinez , Kristin. (Host). (2021 February 15). S2xE4: Grading for Equity with Joe Feldman [Audio podcast episode]. In CS-Ed Podcast. https://csedpodcast.org/

 Wiggins, Benjamin. (2019)  The Public Exam System: Simple Steps to More Effective Tests.  Course Hero https://medium.com/@coursehero/the-public-exam-system-simple-steps-to-more-effective-tests-7b01f8d4c658 

More from the Duke Learning Innovation blog:

What is Ungrading?

Symposium Spotlights: Seven (Feasible) Ways to Beat the Grading Grind 

Márquez, Cecilia (2022) What We Gain When We Lose Grades

Considering Equity in Grading in Computer Science