Grading is one of the few aspects of teaching that educators have complete control over. Even with increased government oversight into the curriculum of schools and powerful teacher unions, a unified grading system has yet to be developed.
There is a movement to push for more “equity” in grading and it calls for more uniform standards. And, it wouldn’t be 2021 if denying these newfound uniform standards in grading was considered — you guessed it — racist.
In my course of research into “racist” grading systems, I came across the book “Grading for Equity” and the Crescendo Education Group (CEG). The book was written by Joe Feldman, who also runs CEG. Feldman was part of the Clinton Administration’s Department of Education as well. CEG is a consulting firm that partners with schools to help teachers create “equitable grading and assessment practices.”
For just $30.90 for the book, or $129 for a three-month crash course, you too can learn how inequitable grading can lead to “racist” policies and practices. According to the book, classrooms are not equitable until we address the inequitable foundations schools were built on.
Here’s how I learned that grading students is racist.
1. Grading homework causes inequity
According to the book “Grading for Equity,” grading a student on their homework should not play a role in final grades. The Grading for Equity website offered a quiz to help me understand which grading practices are inequitable. The quiz did have correct answers and was grading me.
The first question asked, how much weight a teacher should put on homework? The correct answer was to weigh homework as five percent of the grade, and the grade should be based on completion.
“A student’s performance on homework should not be included in the grade,” the quiz reads. “Including homework performance in a grade rewards students with privilege and punishes those without it.”
Not only does grading homework reward students with privilege, but it has also historically reinforced the meritocracy of the American hierarchy.
“Higher scores among white, wealthy Protestants and lower scores among immigrant groups and African Americans were used both to affirm the ideas of the United States as a meritocracy and to reinforce the validity of the existing hierarchy.”
In conclusion, grading homework would lead to different children getting different grades. Different grades are inequitable, therefore grading homework is racist.
2. Participation scores also cause inequity
The book and quiz also taught me that evaluating students off of participation can make teachers susceptible to “unconscious and implicit bias.”
Teachers often use participation scores to incentivize students to contribute to the class discussion and be a “citizen” within the classroom. Other reasons include creating opportunities for students who struggle academically to earn points for valuable “soft skills,” or to help students learn to listen and follow directions.
According to the quiz, grading any form of behavior — including participation — leads to “inaccurate, confusing, and even misleading” grading.
In conclusion, some students may benefit from participation grades, while others may not. Different grades are inequitable, therefore grading students on their participation is racist.
3. Giving out a zero on assignments that aren’t turned in is unacceptable
The prologue of “Grading for Equity” described a young woman, Maria, who entered the principal’s office in tears because she had a bad grade in math class. Maria said she “often handed in homework assignments late or incomplete,” though she performed well on exams. In the book, this was considered an example of inequity.
Maria had received zeros or low scores for failing to turn in assignments. The teacher was to blame for creating inequity by giving Maria a zero on assignments that were never turned in. Instead of giving a student a zero, teachers should take the time to understand why some students are unable to turn in assignments on time.
“We teachers often assign students a zero in the gradebook if homework isn’t handed in by the deadline,” the book reads. “However, we don’t account for all the reasons that a student wouldn’t turn something in on time.” Examples of reasons students may turn in assignments late include after school activities and not enough lighting.
The author later admitted that teachers have created the no-excuses approach to late work to prepare students for real-world skills.
The author also encourages teachers to use a 0-4 grading scale in comparison to the traditional 0-100 grading scale. According to a testimonial from a teacher that participated in Grading for Equity programming, “the old grading scale where children can get a 0 out of 100, they’re never going to succeed because the system is not made for them to succeed.”
In conclusion, some students can’t get their homework done on time even when their peers can. This leads to zeros on assignments and differing grades. Different grades are inequitable, therefore giving zeros is racist.
Another lesson that “Grading for Equity” taught me is that IQ tests are also racist.
“IQ tests believed to assess intellectual character and disposition [and] ‘justify’ racist beliefs,” a PowerPoint version of the book reads.
The book also taught me that teachers should allow students to retake all exams. If a student does poorly on an exam, they should be able to retake the assessment and replace the new score with the old score. Moving forward to a new unit when a student has done poorly on an exam is considered unacceptable. Averaging the score of the old test and the new test is also unacceptable.
Finally, the author let teachers know that they should forgive themselves for their racist grading because they didn’t know any better.
“We have never had the opportunity, resources, and support to examine our traditional grading practices, so we must forgive ourselves for inadvertently perpetuating outdated and even harmful practices.”
Following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police, the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion industry kicked into full swing. Many individuals and companies, such as Grading for Equity, have profited from this training industry by selling products and services that help schools become acceptably “anti-racist.”
According to a report by the Washington Free Beacon, the author of “White Fragility,” Robin DiAngelo, made over $2 million from her book on “anti-racism,” and charges exorbitant amounts to speak with companies and schools. A 60-90 minute keynote with DiAngelo would run $30,000, a two-hour work workshop $35,000, and a half-day event $40,000.
Businesses and schools concede to this steep price point in hopes of proving themselves sufficiently “woke.”
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