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EDITORIAL: ‘Grading for equity’ leads to less learning

Liberals and conservatives hope to shrink the racial achievement gap. But they have very different approaches to doing so.

Real Clear Investigations recently looked into “grading for equity.” It’s a fad pushed by various education consultants. Dozens of districts have embraced this approach, including schools in Boston and Portland, Oregon, and in the states of California and Virginia. The changes are supposed to lead to fewer failing grades among minority students.

That would be wonderful if the grading reforms reflected improved achievement levels. They don’t.

Do any of these “equity” changes sound familiar? Homework is de-emphasized in favor of tests that students can retake numerous times. Teachers can’t knock students for missing or late assignments. The minimum grade kids may receive is 50 percent — even for assignments they ignore.

Those near the Clark County School District don’t have to guess how this turns out. In 2021, the Board of Trustees instituted a suite of such policies. Everything that followed was entirely predictable.

Even with the changes, 23.3 percent of students still received at least one F in the spring semester of 2022. In high school, it was more than 30 percent. This, even though the minimum grade on an assignment was 50 percent. Unsurprisingly, that was an improvement from the previous year.

Dumbing-down standards led to students gaming the system and doing less homework. Learning and homework aren’t always fun, but they develop the skills that students need to succeed in life.

You might expect secondary effects: frustrated teachers and students less concerned about showing up to class. Sure enough, chronic absenteeism is a major problem in Clark County, and the district can’t retain teachers.

Grading for “equity” went so badly that former Superintendent Jesus Jara was forced to modify it. Last July, the district removed the “equitable grading scale” from secondary school assignments. Instead, a student’s minimum quarter grade was 50 percent. Also, it required schools to set a deadline for missing work.

When you telegraph to students that high standards don’t matter, they will respond accordingly.

“These policies aren’t teaching students to be responsible and accountable for their work,” one Baltimore teacher wrote to The Wall Street Journal. “Inflated grades only mask a lack of proficiency.”

Some states have taken a different approach. Arizona, Florida and Mississippi have spent years pursing reforms such as school choice and teaching phonics. Reading scores for Black students in those states have skyrocketed.

Progressives seek to help minority students by erasing standards. That deeply misguided approach, increasingly in vogue in blue states and cities, reflects the soft bigotry of low expectations.

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