Chicago high school moves to race-based grading
Oak Park and River Forest High School won't dock grades of black students for criteria that other students will be report says
Oak Park and River Forest High School have announced they will be changing the way they grade students - based on their race.
Members of the Oak Park and River Forest High School (OPRF) school board titled the plan “Transformative Education Professional Development & Grading” during its May 26 meeting. The plan was presented to the board by Laurie Fiorenza, the Assistant Superintendent for Student Learning.
According to the presentation, black students will be graded differently than the rest of their classmates, as reported by West Cook News.
Black students will no longer be marked down for missing class, failing to turn in assignments, or for disciplinary reasons, seems to be implied. According to the presentation, this change is being made because “Traditional grading practices perpetuate inequities and intensify the opportunity gap.”
The presentation says many OPRF teachers are successfully implementing “equitable grading practices,” such as “competency-based grading, eliminating zeros from the grade book…encouraging and rewarding growth over time.”
OPRF is a “comprehensive public high school” with around 3,400 students located in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb just outside of downtown Chicago.
According to its own school profile, the majority of OPRF students, 55.2%, are white while 18.5% are black, 13.3% are hispanic, 8.8% are multi-ethnic, and 4.2% are asian/pacific islander.
West Cook’s report also referred to previous actions, “Fiorenza called for a switch to race-based grading last August, after issuing a report chronicling a spike in "F" grades by OPRF students in the 2020-21 school year.”
Increasingly since the pandemic, experimentation with“equitable grading” based on skin color or ethnicity has been tried in other areas of the country.
Critics and teachers have argued that “equitable grading” is actually discriminatory and amounts to lowering the bar and does students no favors.
Teachers have argued such grading dictates what they can and can’t do in their classrooms, examples of which include retaking tests and extra-credit assignments for black students only that give them an exclusive grading boost.
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More to the race-based grading story
In a somewhat related turn of events, dropping merit-based admissions has seen spectacular failure at the elite Lowell High School in San Francisco, California.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “Teachers at San Francisco’s Lowell High gave freshman students significantly more D and F grades this past fall, the first semester after the school board eliminated the merit-based admissions it had relied on for decades.”
“Of the 620 students in Lowell’s freshman class, 24.4% received at least one D or F grade during the fall semester, compared with 7.9% of first-year students in fall 2020 and 7.7% in fall 2019,” according to the district’s figures reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Former San Francisco Education Commissioner Alison Collins had called merit-based admissions "racist” and labeled standardized testing as “racist systems.” Collins had also been called out but refused to resign over a stream of racist 2016 tweets claiming Asian Americans had used “white supremacist thinking to assimilate and ‘get ahead.”
Voters had other ideas, overwhelmingly voting to oust Collins this past February in the first recall in the city in over 40 years. Collins wasn’t alone in being given the boot; members Gabriela López and Faauuga Moliga were also voted out.
The school board recall was led by frustrated parents and community members upset over school closures and slow reopening of schools during the pandemic.
Adding to parental anger was the board’s lack of focus on academics, instead choosing to champion controversial social justice issues like renaming 44 schools because their names were deemed to have racist ties. OPRF dropping its merit-based admissions was just another drop in an already full bucket of grievances.
Locally, North Carolina’s largest school district tinkered with a similar grading scheme back in 2014, but avoided naming skin color or ethnicity.
At that time, Wake County Public School administrators presented the board with a “revised” grading policy allegedly to ameliorate the risk of failing for certain students.
That policy didn’t ban giving zeroes or diminished grades for work turned in late, but it did state individual schools should create their own grading plans for missed work, retaking a test and extra credit.
The policy proposal did, however, “prohibit teachers from using grading practices that are punitive in nature which make it difficult, if not impossible, to recover from isolated incidents of non-compliance (e.g. a missed homework assignment or one low grade on a test during a marking period).”
The News and Observer reported that board member Jim Martin said, “We want to be cautious about having an overly dictatorial grading policy.”
“The new guidelines represent a compromise between community members who say allowing teachers to give zero grades is too punitive and others who say that rewarding students for work not done is inappropriate,” According to the News and Observer report.
The unnamed “community members” in the News and Observer story that were pushing to drop zeroes are actually a specific and well-known activist group in the district called the Coalition of Concerned Citizens for African-American Children (CCCAAC).
At that time, CCCAAC was led by Rukiya Dillahunt, the same woman who previously ran a similar group called Education Justice Alliance (EJA).
The current leader of EJA is Letha Muhammad, who made headlines for using the F-bomb during a Wake County school board meeting. EJA is currently running a campaign recruiting children for the launch of its “Youth Power Institute.”
Read more: Activist group recruiting children for launch of 'Youth Power Institute'