Portland schools’ purportedly ‘fair’ grading system will hinder children in need of support

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Public schools in Portland, Oregon are considering implementing “equitable” grading practices, but some worry that this will come at the expense of excellence. The proposed changes aim to create more even grades by eliminating failing grades, changing the grading scale, removing penalties for late work, and no longer penalizing cheating. The district claims that these changes are motivated by concerns over racial disparities in grades and the goal is to promote fairness and reduce bias. However, critics argue that allowing cheaters and slackers to succeed is far from fair.

Although it is true that some students face more challenges and barriers to academic success, it is a mistake for the school district to simply lower the standards for these students. The new grading framework, which aims to be “bias-resistant,” is expected to be implemented next year, although it’s still unclear whether it will apply to all grades or just middle and high school. Similar equity-based grading measures have already been rolled out in other school districts across the country, including California, Iowa, Virginia, and Nevada. However, not all educators are convinced that these changes are beneficial.

Dr. Meredith Coffey, an educational researcher and former high school English teacher, experienced the negative consequences of equitable grading policies firsthand. She believes that teachers should be responsive to individual student needs rather than implementing blanket policies. Coffey witnessed students who took advantage of lenient grading policies and admitted to not putting in effort because they knew they would pass regardless. Portland’s new standards would eliminate zeros and overlook cheating, which undermines the importance of accountability and effort.

While it is important to address the pressure that students feel in academic environments and acknowledge that academic performance isn’t everything, laziness, tardiness, and carelessness should not be excused. These policies fail to distinguish between students who are genuinely struggling and those who are manipulating the system. John Essington, a professor of teacher education, agrees that while some changes to the grading system may be beneficial, implementing such drastic changes all at once can create confusion and chaos for both students and teachers. He argues that these decisions limit teachers’ autonomy in the classroom and demonstrate a lack of trust in their professional judgment.

It is important to recognize that not all students put in the same amount of effort, possess the same abilities or execute their work equally. While the school district may be striving for equity, it is essential to acknowledge and reward the hard work and success of students who consistently perform well, despite any challenges they may face. It is unfair to diminish the accomplishments of these students by substituting accurate grades with equity-based measures. Ultimately, Portland needs to confront the reality that effort, ability, and execution are not equitable and adjust their approach accordingly.

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