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VICTOR JOECKS: Here are the stunning details on CCSD’s proposal to gut grading standards

Grade inflation doesn’t help students, but it allows adults to avoid accountability. No wonder Clark County School District officials are pushing a plan to erode standards.

The district wants to gut its grading standards in three significant ways.

First, the district would mandate that the lowest grade a student can receive is 50 percent. This is known as a “minimum F” and would apply even to missing assignments.

Second, turning in assignments late wouldn’t hurt a student’s academic grade. Instead, students would receive a “citizenship” grade that’s based on things such as participation and turning work in on time.

Third, students would be able to receive new grades on assignments, including tests. Teachers will be allowed, nay encouraged, to retroactively increase a student’s grade if a student shows improvement. Students wouldn’t even have to retake a test to get a better grade. If a teacher thinks a student has learned the material, the teacher could update and replace his previous grade.

These changes are about “ensuring we’re providing accurate grades for our students,” Becca Meyer, director of the district’s Assessment Department, said.

Now, you might think that giving students points for work they didn’t do and changing grades after the fact is the opposite of accuracy. You’d be right.

But district officials want to redefine grades. Grades traditionally measure how well someone did in a class. This is valuable information for parents, teachers and students.

District officials now want grading to reflect whether a student understands the key concepts in a course. Say a fifth grader gets an F on his test on fractions but six weeks later is able to do the work. His grade, district officials contend, shouldn’t reflect his past failure, but his current learning level.

Similar justifications are given for not penalizing late assignments. “It’s not appropriate to punish behavior through the academic grade,” Meyer said. Getting zeros on a few assignments can dramatically drop a student’s average grade, even if he or she knows the material.

If the district wants to embrace this grading philosophy, it should implement a pass/fail system. Students who understand concepts move on when they’re ready. Students who don’t are held back until they do. But district officials said students who don’t meet standards will still advance to the next grade. What?

The district has long promoted kids who aren’t at grade level. The difference now is that they’ll presumably advance with a passing grade despite failing to meet course standards. This doesn’t help struggling students, but it’ll make district officials look better by reducing the number of F grades.

The downsides to this plan should be obvious to anyone who’s ever been around children. Deadlines aren’t punitive torture devices. They’re tools that help students — and adults — get things done. A third grader may not want to do her homework on adjectives. An assignment deadline helps her get it done or lets her parents know she’s behind. If the district thinks deadlines aren’t important, it should allow teachers to show up to school whenever they want.

Without an academic penalty for missing deadlines, students will put off more assignments. Those assignments help them develop their skills and knowledge. Tests are supposed to be challenging. That drives students to study more.

The district disagrees. “There’s a whole body of research that grades aren’t motivating, and they don’t motivate (students) to do more,” Meyer said.

Only a highly educated person could make such a statement. It’s like claiming that paying people not to work doesn’t lead to higher unemployment.

Get out of the ivory tower and ask people if they ever studied harder for a test because they knew their grade depended on it. Or worked late, because they had a deadline to meet. I know I have. Students, even young ones, respond to incentives. If they can pass a class or earn an A while doing less, many will — to the detriment of their own futures.

The only good news is that there’s still a chance to stop this proposal because the School Board must approve it.

A vote is likely in late June or early July. The public, including teachers, parents and students, should demand trustees reject these changes entirely.

Artificially boosting student grades isn’t the solution to the district’s many failures.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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