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EDITORIAL: ‘Too dumb to fail’ grading policies aren’t working

The Clark County School District’s grading policy is so bad that it’s become national news.

Late last month, The Wall Street Journal reported on the growing number of school districts embracing “equitable grading.” The Clark County School District was prominently featured.

The specifics of “equitable grading” vary, but it’s an overarching term for lowering standards. Grading homework is de-emphasized. Students are given multiple chances to take exams. Bad behavior, even cheating, doesn’t affect grades. Students receive a minimum mark of around 50 percent whether they turn in assignments or not. The theory is that the focus should be on mastery, that students shouldn’t be punished if they learn a week three concept in week 10. The important thing, adherents maintain, is that they learn it.

But reality has a way of overwhelming progressive nostrums. If every child were intrinsically motivated, such a system may work. But as teachers, parents and everyone outside of school administrators seem to realize, such students are the exception, particularly when you’re dealing with teenagers.

In the real world, grades and high standards motivate students to work hard. If you give kids an easy way out, many will eagerly take it. Lower expectations become self-fulfilling.

Laura Jeanne Penrod, a local high school English teacher, saw this firsthand. She told the Journal that her honors students started doing less homework once they realized how little homework counted toward their final grades. Some don’t turn in their assignments on time, knowing it won’t count against them.

This should have been entirely predictable.

“If you go to a job in real life, you can’t pick and choose what tasks you want to do and only do the, quote, big ones,” Alyson Henderson, another local high school English teacher, told the Journal. She added, “We’re really setting students up for a false sense of reality.”

Perhaps that’s the point. Superintendent Jesus Jara and the Board of Trustees want parents and the public to think students are doing fine because it obscures the district’s many glaring problems. District officials even bragged that student grades went up after they lowered grading standards.

But the numbers the district can’t manipulate tell a different story. On the Nation’s Report Card, fewer than 30 percent of fourth graders are proficient in reading. In eighth grade math, proficiency is at 21 percent. Both are declines from before the pandemic.

Rather than fix its failures, the district wants to hide them. It’s yet another reason for lawmakers to support Gov. Joe Lombardo’s school choice plan.

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