Antiracist Assessment

Whether we are teachers of color or white teachers, white supremacy in our judgement practices of student writing influences all of us. White supremacy is structured into the ways everyone reads and judges writing. We are all impacted, no matter how we identify ourselves or our political beliefs. (Inoue, 2019, p. 373)

 A growing scholarship on writing assessment explains that writing instructors must explicitly address and embrace antiracist assessment techniques.

Antiracist assessment often moves away from grading and ranking students, and turns towards contract grading and assessment of labor and learning. This sort of grading approach is very different from standard university assessment. Even without taking this full step, we can still take inspiration from the approach. Many of the antiracist assessment approaches detailed below are also consistent with best practices in general grading pedagogy.

 Antiracist Approaches to Grading and Assessment
  1. Center student perspectives and experiences. Try to ensure that comments on writing support what the student wants to say, and not what we want them to say.
  2. Consider moving from quality-based assessment to completion-based feedback for at least part of the grade (e.g., Danielewicz & Elbow’s (2009) “hybrid grading contract”).
  3. Be cautious of participation-based grades, which typically favor standard learners not impacted by differences in learning, cultural background, experience, language, etc.
  4. Avoid excessive penalties for complete work.
  5. Move away from assessment of language and grammar, and focus on argument and broader communication of ideas.

    White language supremacy in writing classrooms is due to the uneven and diverse linguistic legacies that everyone inherits, and the racialized white discourses that are used as standards, which give privilege to those students who embody those habits of white language already.” (Inoue, 2021 as cited by Peppiatt, 2021)

  6. Be transparent about your grading approach. Show students your rubric and/or grading framework. Santos (2018) suggests having students use your rubric to assess sample papers or paragraphs to model how you apply specific criteria in when you evaluate student writing. 
  7. Separate grading and feedback when possible.

When the two are given together — i.e., you provide extensive commentary while providing a grade— students frame the commentary as justification of the grade. The context is adversarial. The feedback isn’t received as constructive, caring help, but rather as a tick-sheet of faults and reasons why they didn’t get a C/B/A (whatever grade they are trying to achieve). However when feedback is separated from assessment, student attitudes shift, because they absorb feedback as advice (for how to improve a future assessment) rather than as a justification of an assessment. (Santos, 2018)

  1. Consider using alternate forms of feedback (video feedback, one-on-one conferences) instead of or in addition to written feedback. These forms of feedback can be more accessible and positive for many students.
  2. Continue reading and learning about antiracist assessment.


Antiracist Assessment Resources 

Bahula, T., and Kay, R. 2020. Exploring student perceptions of video feedback: a review of the literature. Proceedings of the ICERI2020 Conference.

Coleman, Taiyon J., Renee DeLong, Kathleen Sheerin DeVore, Shannon Gibney, and Michael C. Kuhne. 2016. The Risky Business of Engaging Racial Equity in Writing Instruction: A Tragedy in Five Acts. Teaching English in the Two Year College 43(4): 347–70.

Danielewicz, J. and Elbow, P. 2009. A unilateral grading contract to improve learning and teaching. College Composition and Communication 61(2): 244-268.

Inoue, A.B. 2019. Classroom writing assessment as an antiracist practice: Confronting white supremacy in the judgments of language. Pedagogy 19(3): 373–404

Peppiatt, M. (2021). To combat racism, professor urges peers to embrace labor-based grading. The College Fix. 

Santos, M. C. (2018, August 15). Anti-Racist Writing Assessment. Insignificant Wranglings.


Elissa Jacobs and Paige Eggebrecht