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'Equity:' Illinois District May Bar Teachers from Using Truancy or Missed Assignments in Assigning Grades?

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

What amazes me most about developments like this is that the adults making these decisions have apparently convinced themselves that they're "helping" kids and doing the "right thing." But they're doing neither. They're tearing down standards and setting kids back. 

This story – the veracity of which is disputed, more below – comes to us, not from California, believe it or not (apparently, the San Francisco school board has not learned its lesson, despite three successful recalls), but from another deep blue area that was unusually terrible about harming children during the pandemic: Illinois. How would this policy not represent bigotry in action? 

Oak Park and River Forest High School administrators will require teachers next school year to adjust their classroom grading scales to account for the skin color or ethnicity of its students. School board members discussed the plan called “Transformative Education Professional Development & Grading” at a meeting on May 26, presented by Assistant Superintendent for Student Learning Laurie Fiorenza. In an effort to equalize test scores among racial groups, OPRF will order its teachers to exclude from their grading assessments variables it says disproportionally hurt the grades of black students. They can no longer be docked for missing class, misbehaving in school or failing to turn in their assignments, according to the plan. “Traditional grading practices perpetuate inequities and intensify the opportunity gap,” reads a slide in the PowerPoint deck outlining its rationale and goals.

Unless I'm missing something, the first sentence of the story (published by a right-wing local news network) is misleading. It doesn't appear as though teachers are being told to adjust their grading based on race or skin color, and the district says no changes have been made. Instead, they may be told to eliminate traditional grading criteria that have been deemed "disproportionately" deleterious to certain students. In other words, the standards won't be different, based on race. All the standards would be lowered, to compensate for what proponents call "inequities." More: 

Advocates for so-called "equity based" grading practices, which seek to raise the grade point averages of black students and lower scores of higher-achieving Asian, white and Hispanic ones, say new grading criteria are necessary to further school districts' mission of DEIJ, or "Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice." "By training teachers to remove the non-academic factors from their grading practices and recognize when personal biases manifest, districts can proactively signal a clear commitment toward DEIJ," said Margaret Sullivan, associate director at the Education Advisory Board...Sullivan calls grading based on traditional classroom testing and homework performance “outdated practices” and foster "unconscious biases." "Teachers may unintentionally let non-academic factors—like student behavior or whether a student showed up to virtual class—interfere with their final evaluation of students," she said. “Traditional student grades include non-academic criteria that do not reflect student learning gains—including participation and on-time homework submission."

The report interviewed science teacher Brad Beadell of Santa Clara, Calif., who said he has "stopped giving zeros and deducting points for late work" as well as allowing students "unlimited retakes for quizzes and tests." Fiorenza called for a switch to race-based grading last August, after issuing a report chronicling a spike in "F" grades by OPRF students in the 2020-21 school year. "OPRF’s administration will adopt language that makes and keeps the system visible and continues to name racism as a complex interconnected structure," she wrote...Last year, West Cook News reported on an adjusted grade point average scale implemented by OPRF teacher Fiona Hill. It lowered the score for an "F" to 19 percent.

Skipping class, late assignments, and even missing assignments should not negatively impact grades, according to this line of thinking, which may infect policies. Showing up and doing the work, on time, are apparently "outdated practices," fueling "unconscious biases," while racism must be explicitly named as a "complex interconnected structure." Ideas cited also include unlimited re-takes on tests, as well as massively defining down what counts as a failing grade. As I've said before, former President George W. Bush used to talk about the "soft bigotry of low expectations." Mindsets like the one espoused by Ms. Sullivan take explicitly racial low expectations and make the bigotry systemic. It's an effort to gut objective standards by labeling them racially problematic or unfair. In reality, it's insulting to suggest that anyone is less capable of meeting objective standards based on the color of his or her skin. Again, it's unclear whether these ideas were merely floated in a powerpoint presentation as part of a discussion, then got overblown and distorted – or if the district got caught and backed away. The view that this was right-wing misinformation is described here

Notice that one of the reported catalysts for (at least) the discussion was a "spike in 'F' grades" among students last school year. Illinois schools were ordered closed for in-person learning in the spring of the previous academic year, and many remained fully or partially closed for the entire subsequent school year, as well. That was direct harm, often inflicted on students whose families could least afford alternatives, based on junk science. Rather than doing everything in their power to reverse the negative impacts of their bad decisions, some adults in charge are looking to make it harder to quantify the scope of their catastrophic errors. They've failed kids, so now they're dressing up those failures as racism. These schools are not alone in attempting blame-avoidance schemes disguised as making systems more "equitable." The kids are not okay, and too many reckless, ideological, politicized adults seem intent on making this reality worse: 

It's unfathomable that some people look at the dual disasters of learning loss and developmental derailment and think that changing how such things are measured is a "solution." It's also unfathomable that someone would write a piece like this after the last two years: 

I'll leave you with even more data proving that forced school masking is ineffective: 

I'd love to see a Venn Diagram of the adults who are school masking fanatics, and who would support potential new "equity" standards described above. 


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