Beyond Assignment Grading: Pathways for diverse-needs students to achieve course outcomes and educational success

Concurrent Session 3

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

How does someone start at a residential school for the blind, and end up with a PhD in Environmental Chemistry? What can be learned from this journey to increase inclusion and equity?  Let’s build creative pathways to student-centered outcome achievement that empower and motivate all students - going beyond traditional accommodations. 

Extended Abstract

As educators one of our primary goals is to guide students to success in their courses, programs, and career/life goals.  We establish course, program, and institutional outcomes to help frame what this success looks like.  A strong educational practice is to frame course readings, activities and assignments in terms of these overarching outcomes.  This becomes even more critical for students with challenges and/or special needs.


During this session we will begin by exploring, in the broadest terms, who may face challenges in our courses.  Some students may have ADA accommodations, but others may be working two jobs to afford their studies.  Challenged students are certainly not a monolith.  How do we identify, connect with, support and guide all of these students?  What do we learn from these students that make us better educators? 


Just as Universal Design for Learning asks us to design learning materials in a way that promotes ease of access for all; this session will look at how finding pathways to success for all students may require looking beyond ADA accommodations.  Not every challenged student meets the criteria to obtain such accommodations, but every student needs access to successfully achieve outcomes.   Our life experiences can never prepare us to fully understand the challenges of all students, but we can explore some categories of challenges and methods for better understanding student needs.  Some examples of these methods include asking experts, creating a supportive community of educators and most importantly, empowering students to self-advocate and take charge of their learning and success. 


As a part of this exploration, the presenter will describe her educational journey from age five at a residential school for the blind to earning a PhD in Environmental Soil Chemistry.  She will explore a variety of paths to success that emphasize achieving of established outcomes over the grading criteria of individual assignments.  Other key concepts to be addressed include student-centered learning, self-advocacy, and empathy.


Next, participants will be asked to work in groups to put what they have learned into practice.  Teams will be given a scenario and asked to brainstorm the best ways to: understand the student’s challenges, engage and motivate the learner; and creatively propose paths to achieving course outcomes that might require rethinking assignments and activities.  Groups will then share with all attendees providing opportunities for further discussion and learning.   Finally, we will explore how comfortable we feel with the process and what concerns might arise. 


Participants will gain insights on how to recognize a broader spectrum of students that might face challenges to success in a course.  Attendees will gain tools for addressing the student needs framed around the student’s own understanding of their situation and requirements.  By exploring real-world situations in small groups, participants will have the ability to try their hand at crafting a path to student success by focusing on course outcomes, and allowing for creativity in how to establish a valid measure of student achievement.


This session’s group activity will be based off a printed worksheet.  Those that find printed handouts to be a barrier to participation are encouraged to access a digital copy of this worksheet prior to the session and proactively request any accommodations that would make this session most fruitful.



Relevant Resources


Fisher, A. S., & St. John, E. P. (2008). [Review of Economically and Educationally Challenged Students in Higher Education: Access to Outcomes (review)]. Review of Higher Education, 32(1), 139–140. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.


Santos J., Simões Figueiredo A., Vieira M. (2019).  Innovative pedagogical practices in higher education: An integrative literature review, Nurse Education Today, 72,12-17, ISSN 0260-6917,

 Ghrist, M., Holcomb, T., Schaubroeck, B., Warner, B., & Williams, S. (2012). What’s The Point? The Benefits of Grading Without Points. PRIMUS : Problems, Resources, and Issues in Mathematics Undergraduate Studies, 22(5), 411–427.


 HEHIR, T. (2002). Eliminating ableism in Education. Harvard Educational Review, 72(1), 1–32.


Rayens, W., & Ellis, A. (2018). Creating a Student-Centered Learning Environment Online. Journal of Statistics Education, 26(2), 92–102.