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Equitable grading: What is it and how is it helping students?

(NewsNation) — Similar to college classrooms, middle and high schools across the U.S. are shifting the focus in the classroom to becoming less about homework and more about finals and testing. The goal is to replace what some are calling an outdated system for “equitable grading.”

Equitable grading can take different forms, but it aims to measure how students understand the classroom material by the end of a term without penalties for behavior, The Wall Street Journal reported. This has resulted in more opportunities for students to complete tests and assignments.

Schools in Iowa, Virginia and California have started adopting the new policy.

Proponents have said this will help students who have challenges outside school, while critics have said students can take advantage of the system.

Jeanne Penrod, an English teacher for 17 years at Clark County, Nevada School District, said she was originally optimistic about the system but said she changed her mind after she saw students start to “game” the system and students who should be benefiting from it not utilizing it.

“I find that we have students that are in our B, A range, just trying to get to a higher level of an A,” she said. “Versus my students who really need to remediate work and probably need to retest, and do things of that nature that are in that D, F range that are not utilizing the system that is built for them to help them.”

Joe Feldman, founder and CEO of Crescendo Education Group, leads the Equitable Grading Project. He spent more than 20 years in the classroom and said upon leaving, he started researching and found that most of the practices that teachers use are the same as from 100 years ago, and they’re just replicating that.

“What we find when teachers start using more equitable grading practices, and that means practices that create more accuracy in grades, and are more bias resistant and are more motivational,” he said. “When they receive the support they need to implement these, they find that grade inflation goes down and students become actually more motivated.”

Many feel the system may introduce bias, specifically systemic oppression. Feldman said homework is important, but shouldn’t be included in grades, as there are other ways to motivate students.

He further broke his explication down by comparing it to preparing for a basketball game:

“If I have a basketball game on Saturday, I go in the backyard and I shoot free throws for an hour — nobody is looking to see how many free throws I make and then bringing it to the game and adding it to my score. It is very clear to me that I practice shooting those free throws because I need to practice in order to do well in the assessment. Same thing for homework, right?”

Overall, Feldman explained teachers should collect homework to give feedback but students should not be penalized for it.

“That performance shouldn’t be included in the grade because when it is, it disproportionately punishes students who have more responsibilities outside of school, or who have less support outside of school,” he said. “Even if those students do very well on the assessment, and they don’t turn in the homework, it ends up pulling down their grade even though they know the material.”