Teachers Turn Away From ‘Equitable Grading’

Student holding graded paper | Image by Diego Cervo/Shutterstock

Some teachers are starting to push back on a trend in public education: “equitable grading” of homework.

The practice is promoted as a way for teachers to evaluate students’ academic work in a manner that excludes non-academic criteria, like due dates and student behavior. All assignments are ultimately supposed to be due at some point in the term, but with less wiggle room for teachers to impose “arbitrary” penalties.

It is also supposed to mitigate “inequities” external to the learning setting, such as if a student has an after-school job or troubles at home.

Joe Feldman, a lifelong educator turned pedagogical consultant and promoter of equitable grading, claimed in an interview with the Harvard EdCast:

“[W]e know that homework is often a filter for privilege, that students who have resources at home, whether they be internet access, or caregivers who have a college education or who have time to help them, settings that have a quiet space to do work, students who don’t have other responsibilities like taking care of siblings or having jobs, those students are more likely to complete homework compared to the students who don’t have those resources.”

Feldman contends that traditional 0-100 point grading schemes that quantify performance aspects that do not have to do with mastery of the material by the end of the school term are not accurate reflections of whether the student is learning or not.

“When we include a student’s performance on homework in the grade, we are rewarding students who have those resources and punishing those who don’t,” Feldman said.

However, teachers and administrators at school districts where “equitable grading” of homework has been implemented are starting to feel that the premise rests on shaky assumptions about youths and could be setting students up to fail in the job market.

“We’re really setting students up for a false sense of reality,” claimed Las Vegas high school teacher Alyson Henderson, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Henderson and other educators in Las Vegas reportedly felt that equitable grading was minimizing the importance of homework and giving students the opportunity to game a new system that may have allowed for less accountability.

“They’re relying on children having intrinsic motivation, and that is the furthest thing from the truth for this age group,” said another Las Vegas teacher, Laura Jeanne Penrod, speaking with The Wall Street Journal.

While there is no standardized model for equitable grading, some school districts adopted a 50% floor rule for assignments, where as long as the student turns in their work, they will not receive a grade lower than 50 for the assignment.

Brian Donlon, a Montgomery County, Maryland, social studies teacher, told The Washington Post, “I have kids who have barely come to class and turned nothing in but have 50 percent. [The rule] is one piece of the larger puzzle, to inflate grades and graduation rates so school system leaders can claim success.”

Still, other educators and administrators are embracing the model, arguing that the practice can reduce student anxiety and still measure earned knowledge.

“I would say the rigor is the same as the traditionalist teacher,” Stamford, Connecticut, math teacher Michael Capriotti said to the Stamford Advocate.

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