How to Score Student Work Equitably

Contrary to public perception, scoring student assignments and tests goes well beyond determining whether an answer is correct or incorrect. To score equitably, a teacher needs to be familiar with the art and the science of scoring. It’s an important task and there’s a lot to think about. Here are some things to thunk about:

1. Determine a rationale for the method of scoring you’ve chosen – letter grade, percentage, comments, rubric, level, etc –  each has a purpose and a place.

2. Use a scoring guide (a list of possible correct and incorrect responses) and refer to it throughout the scoring process.

3. If time permits, share scoring tasks with another teacher. This increases the reliability of the results.

4. As each assessment item is scored, be aware that correct answers can be expressed in different ways –  but ensure the student answer meets the criteria of the scoring guide. In other words, don’t “read into” the student answer or make assumptions about “what the student meant”.

5. Ensure that the scoring is not impacted by irrelevant factors. For example: spelling errors must not have a negative impact on a math assessment.

6. Be aware of the “halo effect”, which occurs when a teacher’s prior knowledge of student performance impacts the scoring process.

7. If an unexpectedly high percentage of students answer a question with an incorrect response, examine the wording of the question for clarity. If judged to be unclear, do not include the question in the final tally of results. If clarity is not a problem, ensure that the content has been covered in class. If not, do not include the question in the final tally of results.

8.  If a high percentage of students achieve an exceptionally high score, the task may be too easy. Assignments and tests that are too easy provide little information about recent student learning.

9.  If a high percentage of students receive an exceptionally low score; the test may be too hard. Assignments and tests that are too hard provide little information about recent student learning.

10. Provide students with feedback and an opportunity to reflect on their answers and in a timely manner – asap!

11. Feedback should acknowledge what’s been accomplished as well as an indication of  the next steps of learning. For example:

“I notice that you can . . .”

“Tell me how you did this . . . ”

“The next step of learning is . . .”

12. If students or parents/guardians have questions about the results, be willing to review the scoring process with them.

13. Use the assessment information about what the student has accomplished to inform the next steps of instruction.

For More information about fair student assessment practices, read Principles for Fair Student Assessment Practices in Canada

You can also visit our video about equitable scoring: Scoring Tests: Keeping it Fair

For more conversations about education, please visit:Beyond the Apple . . . Reframing Conversations in Education or contact us at

About Beyond The Apple

Beyond the Apple provides everything a Professional Learning Community needs! Designed to follow Beyond the Apple's Tenets of Adult Education, our videos re-ignite the excitement of professional conversations among educators in the classroom, university, colleges and professional training. Our free teaching and learning resources provide a follow up with more information that is current, research based and practical.
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