Illinois high school implements new grading practices for equity

This story comes from a conservative news site called West Cook News that I’ve never heard of before (more about them here). But the story links to the primary document it’s reporting on, a slide show presentation for Oak Park and River Forest High School announcing a strategic plan to transform the school’s grading system. The school is located in Oak Park, Illinois and the goal of the change is to make grading more equitable.


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…

“Traditional grading practices perpetuate inequities and intensify the opportunity gap,” reads a slide in the PowerPoint deck outlining its rationale and goals.

It calls for what OPRF leaders describe as “competency-based grading, eliminating zeros from the grade book…encouraging and rewarding growth over time.”…

Sullivan calls grading based on traditional classroom testing and homework performance “outdated practices” and foster “unconscious biases.”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.”

West cook News frames this as a “race-based grading system” and while that probably is the motivation behind this, the slide show doesn’t mention any specific races. The key slide titled “Summary of Findings” reads as follows:

  • Traditional grading practices perpetuate inequities and intensify the opportunity gap
  • Integrating equitable assessment and grading practices into all academic and elective courses requires the collaborative effort of a team of educators committed to improvements that
    benefit all students
  • Many OPRFHS teachers are successfully exploring and implementing more equitable grading practices such as: utilizing aspects of competency-based grading, eliminating zeros
    from the grade book, and encouraging and rewarding growth over time
  • Teachers and administrators at OPRFHS will continue the process necessary to make grading improvements that reflect our core beliefs

This isn’t the fist school to adopt some of these ideas. Back in 2020 I wrote about the San Diego school district’s plans to adopt something similar.

The San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) is overhauling the way it grades students. Board members say the changes are part of a larger effort to combat racism.

“This is part of our honest reckoning as a school district,” says SDUSD Vice President Richard Barrera. “If we’re actually going to be an anti-racist school district, we have to confront practices like this that have gone on for years and years.”…

Academic grades will now focus on mastery of the material, not a yearly average, which board members say penalizes students who get a slow start, or who struggle at points throughout the year.

Another big change, teachers can no longer consider non-material factors when grading. Things like turning work in on time and classroom behavior will now instead count towards a student’s citizenship grade, not their academic grade.


The Associated Press published a story in March of this year about the trend:

For years, advocates have advanced the concept of “equitable grading,” arguing grades should reflect students’ mastery of course material and not homework, behavior or extra credit. A growing number of schools now are becoming more deliberate about eliminating bias from grading systems as a result of lessons from the pandemic and the nation’s reckoning with racial injustice.

From California to Virginia, schools have been experimenting with getting rid of zero-to-100 point scales and other strategies to keep missed assignments from dramatically bringing down overall grades. Others are allowing students to retake tests and turn work in late. Also coming under scrutiny are extra-credit assignments than can favor students with more advantages.

The AP story also noted the outcome of the push in San Diego which I described above.

In San Diego, a teachers union filed a grievance last year when the district launched plans to introduce equitable grading. Government and economics teacher Julia Knoff said she and her colleagues were concerned about having less autonomy and more work on tasks like rewriting tests for retakes.

The union eventually reached an agreement with the district ensuring teachers discretion on matters like how late assignments can be submitted and how many times they can be redone. Knoff, who is also a union representative, has been going through the training, although she personally believes the new approach will do little to prepare students for real-world responsibilities.

“I have a job and I have a boss and requirements,” Knoff said.


I don’t know anything about that particular teacher, Julia Knoff, but her basic complaint makes a lot of sense. The real world is not a place where you can not show up, miss assignments repeatedly and then make up for it all by retaking the final 3 or 4 times. I get the idea that school shouldn’t solely be about preparing people for work but really the basic rules of getting things done, showing up on time and not disrupting everyone else seem like pretty fundamental lessons that apply here and around the world.

I’m not sure what happens to these equitably graded kids when they get their first job and find out they have to a) show up for work when scheduled, b) get the job done while on the clock and c) not create a disruption in their place of work . All that to say, some of these changes don’t sound very helpful in the long run.

On the other hand, as a parent there is an argument to be made that zeroes in the grade book on one minor assignment can create a real hurdle for students, some of whom may have actual reasons for missing an assignment now and again. The middle school my kids attended also allowed for test corrections in many cases which allowed students to make up some of the missing points by redoing the work after the fact. So I’m not necessarily against everything they are suggesting here but I think I draw the line when not showing up and not doing the work required of everyone don’t count against you at all.


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David Strom 10:00 AM | June 21, 2024