NAIS Equity Design Lab (EDL): Grading for Equity

The NAIS Equity Design Lab (EDL) is a leadership and professional development experience that encourages participants to use and share design principles, action research, collaborative skill-building, and best and emerging practices. The goal is to develop innovative solutions and models that independent schools can use to address challenges and opportunities related to equity and social justice inside and out of the classroom.
Exemplary teaching—the artful blend of content knowledge, zest for learning, and abiding concern for each student and their unique needs and aspirations—is a hallmark of independent education. But what about grading?

To lead the 2023 EDL, NAIS is pleased to join forces for a third year with Joe Feldman, noted educator and author of Grading for Equity: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How It Can Transform Schools and Classrooms. This three-day institute will explore how our continued use of traditional grading practices often unwittingly reinforces century-old beliefs about students' academic and intellectual capacities, perpetuates opportunity gaps, creates more stressful classrooms, and unintentionally rewards students with more resources while penalizing those with fewer material and financial supports.

This highly interactive institute will synthesize education research and practical classroom-based experience to address these questions:

  • Why is improving grading critical to ensuring academic excellence and equity in our classrooms?
  • What century-old beliefs drove the creation of many of our current grading practices? How does the continued use of those grading practices often thwart effective teaching and learning, focus students on points instead of learning, add to their stress and anxiety, and undermine our equity work, thereby perpetuating the very racial and economic disparities we seek to interrupt? 
  • What grading practices are more accurate and bias-resistant, and build students’ intrinsic motivation to learn? 
  • What are common challenges and effective strategies to successfully integrate these practices into our classrooms and schools? 
  • What is action research, and how can it illuminate the results of trying these more equitable grading practices and support policy development? What helpful kinds of qualitative and quantitative data can we collect without overburdening ourselves? 
  • How do we bring these ideas to our school and lead system-wide change, while balancing teacher autonomy with an imperative to make our grading more equitable in every classroom?


Equity Design Lab designers recommend that participants register in school teams composed of both teachers and administrators to ensure more diverse perspectives and to promote more productive planning and cross-role coordination. While many teachers have autonomy over their grading practices, the grades those teachers assign—and students’ and families’ experience with receiving those grades—do not exist in a vacuum; administrators need a clear understanding of equitable grading in order to support faculty, communicate effectively to caregivers, and to lead schoolwide change.

In addition, each head of school and division director will be invited to participate in a pre-institute Zoom call to provide an overview of the institute content, specific outcomes to expect, and specific ways to leverage their investment during the 2023-24 year.

Within this context, the EDL is a robust professional development experience for:

  • Teachers
  • Instructional coaches
  • Curriculum directors
  • Instructional support staff
  • Diversity directors and educators
  • Academic deans
  • Heads of school and division heads
  • Other faculty and leadership from NAIS member and subscriber schools