Grading practices often biased toward more affluent students, report says
- Schools’ grading practices focus too much on behaviors that can be “subjectively interpreted” like participation or effort, are inconsistent and favor higher-achieving, more affluent students, argues a new report released Thursday.
- “School Grading Policies are Failing Children,” written by education consultant and former school and district administrator Joe Feldman, says grading policies have been largely overlooked in efforts to strengthen equity and improve schools. He recommends using a 0-4 scale instead of 0-100, considering a student’s more recent performance instead of averaging grades over time, and allowing students to retake tests or re-do projects “to encourage and recognize continued learning.”
- “Leaders at every level — principals, district administrators, and state policymakers — must reinforce practices that emphasize growth and challenge implicit bias," Feldman said in a news release. In schools that have implemented such practices, he writes, failing grades decline, but so does the rate of students who receive A’s. Such schools also see more alignment between teachers’ grades and results on standardized tests of that material.
Feldman’s report comes as other experts are calling attention to whether the grades students receive for quizzes, homework and other daily assignments are accurate reflections of their knowledge and skills and based on the standards they are expected to master.
Late last month, TNTP released “The Opportunity Myth,” showing that even when students get good grades, they often aren’t completing grade-level assignments that will prepare them for college classwork. In addition, low-income students, English learners, students of color and students with disabilities are the least likely to receive grade-appropriate assignments. Also in September, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute released a study showing that while many students get good grades in Algebra 1, far fewer earn top marks on end-of-course algebra tests. The study —based on a sample of all North Carolina public school students who took Algebra I between the 2004-05 and 2015-16 academic years — concluded that grade inflation has grown worse over time at schools serving more affluent students.
Grading practices, or changing them, however, can be “a contentious issue for students, teachers, and parents,” Feldman says in the news release, and in a 2014 commentary, he wrote that teachers have a “sense of professional identity” related to their grading practices. Some districts are trying to bring more transparency and equity to the process through standards-based grading. In any school community, making changes to grading procedures will require time for professional development, teacher collaboration and communication with families.
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