“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.”
According to data presented by the district, under the old grading system, teachers fail minority students more than White students – a lot more.
During the first semester of last year, 30% of all D or F grades were given to English learners. One in four, 25%, of failing marks went to students with disabilities.
By ethnicity, 23% went to Native Americans. Another 23% of failing grades went to Hispanics. And 20% of D or F grades went to Black students.
By comparison, just 7% of failing marks went to White students.
In an effort to change that racial imbalance, the school board voted unanimously this week to make several big changes to its grading system.
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.
One major reason I think this is dumb is that it creates some misaligned incentives for the students. When there are no penalties for handing in late work, fewer students will complete it on time, and they’ll have a tougher time catching up, especially since many classes build on earlier material. History classes tend to be in sequential order, as what happens in the Civil War is relevant in understanding Reconstrution. If you’re reading a novel in English class, it helps to have read the earlier chapters. Math and Science build on earlier concepts. This could very well end up hurting students of color by making it tougher for them to get the mastery of subject matter they need in order to pass their classes.
I can understand behavior not being part of the academic grade, although that primarily works when there are significant penalties for poor behavior. Many school districts are doing away with suspensions and detention, which reduce the incentives for students to not disrupt their classmates.
It is also important to teach students the significance of deadlines. In the real world, we’re all dependent on other people completing their work on time. If a chef isn’t ready in time for dinner, that restaurant is going to fail. Maybe it’s because she was incompetent, or because a supplier didn’t get things in on time, or because someone else failed to clean the kitchen on time. Likewise, the courts require people completing their work when they’re supposed to.