Equitable Homeworks

Equitable Homeworks-43
Although most districts prioritize equity, and many teachers entered the profession to disrupt and reduce achievement disparities, traditional grading practices often perpetuate rather than eliminate disparities, rewarding students who have privileges and resources and punishing those without.

Although most districts prioritize equity, and many teachers entered the profession to disrupt and reduce achievement disparities, traditional grading practices often perpetuate rather than eliminate disparities, rewarding students who have privileges and resources and punishing those without.

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Equally problematic, educators typically lack the language, resources, knowledge and courage to address the problem.

Avoiding the topic seems, at best, a concession that variable and unfair grading is a necessary byproduct of academic freedom and, at worst, a reluctant tolerance of the damaging impact of current grading on our students, particularly those who are most vulnerable.

But for students and families, grades mean so much more.

Grades can be a source of tremendous stress and anxiety.

For school and district leaders, grades provide valuable feedback — evidence of achievement gaps, weaknesses in instruction and staffing and professional development needs.

Perhaps no source of information more clearly reveals the quality of our schools’ and our district’s effectiveness than grades.Compounding the problem of variability in grading are the ways in which teachers, often unwittingly, use grading practices that are inequitable — mathematically unsound, biased and demotivating.For example, teachers often use mathematical scales and calculations that hide student growth and hamper students who struggle, and although teachers use grades to indicate how well students master course content, many also incorporate into grades whether students’ behavior or work habits gain their subjective, and often implicitly biased, approval.In Placer, the district held a closed study session on equitable grading with its board of trustees to gain approval and build a “tailwind” for launching the work.Each district knew that changing grading policies “from the top down” would create confusion and backlash among teachers.Over time, these school districts systematically revamped their grading practices, resulting in significant reduction of achievement gaps and leveraging the process to strengthen teaching and learning.A few miles from San Francisco is San Leandro Unified School District, a racially diverse district where nearly two-thirds of students are low-income.In each district, pilot teachers participated in a two-day intensive workshop to learn how common grading practices date back to the Industrial Revolution and reflect outdated values and debunked assumptions.They also learned about the research and strategies to implement improved grading that is more accurate, resistant to our implicit and institutional biases, and motivational.The irony is that while grades are vital to school improvement and to students’ futures, the teachers assigning those grades receive almost no training in how to grade effectively.Consequently, each teacher’s grading practices are different, often uninformed by research and usually based entirely on each teacher’s unique experiences and beliefs.

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