KTTH OPINION

Rantz: Mom took on ‘equity grading’ to get child the ‘F’ she earned

Jul 16, 2023, 6:00 PM

equity grading...

Redmond High School (Photo courtesy of Lake Washington School District)

(Photo courtesy of Lake Washington School District)

It’s not often a mother pushes for her own child to get a failing grade, but that’s precisely what happened in the Lake Washington School District. This mom thought the result of “equity grading” sent the wrong message to her daughter. Now, she’s on a mission to end lax grading policies that fail children more than an “F” on a report card ever could.

Jane knew her sophomore daughter was struggling in Algebra 2 at Redmond High School. The 16-year-old daughter failed every test, including three of the four tests she was able to retake. Yet when her daughter’s report card came out, Jane was shocked to see a passing grade. (Jane is a pseudonym for the mother who fears embarrassing her daughter by going public with this story.)

In the “professional judgment” of the teacher, Jane’s daughter was allowed to pass the class, not due to skill or mastery of the subject, but due to holistic, “equity grading” where you only have to show you attempted to learn the material.

‘Abhorrent’ message to send about grades

The concerned mother started to dig into her daughter’s academic record.

Jane tells me that her daughter was “given 100% in advance for all homework, regardless of whether she completed it or turned it in.” She discovered that extra credit and in-class practice or problem-solving earned her daughter, and presumably other students, extra points “in order to prop up poor test scores.”

To help affect the grading curve for the final, Jane says her daughter was given extra, unearned points. And there were no more “F” grades, replaced, instead, with “N,” which indicates the student did not pass but the grade would remain grade point average (GPA) neutral (meaning, it wouldn’t affect the GPA).

“The message that this grading sends is abhorrent and tells children that they do not have to try and shows that there is no value in earning a high school diploma,” Jane told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “These practices directly undermine the principles and values that we are trying to instill in our children at home. How do I tell my daughter that it is important to work hard and study if the school hands her a passing grade because she registered for the class?”

‘Professional judgment’ determines grades

Remarkably, Jane was given the opportunity to enroll her daughter in summer school so that she can better understand Algebra 2. But because her daughter didn’t fail the class, the district would charge $465 for the course. Had her daughter received the failing grade she deserved, the course would have been free, Jane explains.

Bothered by the message the grade sent to her child, Jane reached out to various administrators to get a better understanding of what went on.

In an email Jane shared with the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH, Redmond High School’s principal Jill VanderVeer said that, “the determination of grades is a professional responsibility of the teacher, as stipulated in the teachers’ contract.” She noted that the high school’s educators agreed that “all classes will implement a 40% floor for assignments and assessments in which the student has made a good-faith effort to show what they know.” In other words, students need not actually understand the material but merely make a good-faith effort to explain what little they grasp of the subject matter.

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Changing grades

Jane attempted to get the grade changed to an “N,” and based on an email from one administrator’s email, it would appear there was an agreement that it was deserved. But the administrator, a school counselor, echoed the comment made by the principal.

“I have been informed that the ‘D’ will remain as the final grade for the 2nd semester of Algebra II for [the student]. As per the LWEA contractual agreement, we are in a position to uphold  [the teacher’s] professional judgment with the final ‘D’ grade. Despite [student’s] inconsistencies and struggles with end-of-unit assessments, [the teacher] made an informed decision that, upon reviewing [the student’s] homework logs, that [the student] demonstrated proficiency in understanding the course material to warrant the passing grade,” he wrote according to the email.

The counselor offered Jane a fee waiver for the summer school program. But that wasn’t Jane’s point.

Standards-based grading is the new school equity movement

The Lake Washington School District holds a belief that, according to a spokesperson, “grades should reflect student learning.” While it leaves grading to the professional judgment of its educators, the district does have a general policy but it’s relatively sparse.

Educators must provide their grading criteria in writing. Unless provided in writing stating otherwise, “a teacher may not use attendance and participation in the grading process.” “F” grades are no longer offered.

“Grading for specific classes is left to the teacher’s professional judgment, with core agreements made at the school level,” the spokesperson told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. The term “equity grading” is not used by the district.

In March of 2022, the Washington State Board of Education adopted and endorsed a new “Standards-based Grading” system. It appears the educator responsible for Jane’s daughter’s passing grade, at least in part, was inspired by this system.

Rather than judge students by test, quiz, and homework scores, educators are told to base grades on “learning goals and performance standards.” It tells educators to use selected assessments for grading purposes (i.e., only certain quizzes or homework assignments). This standard says not all grading should be considered at the end of the school semester; instead, educators should “emphasize the most recent evidence of learning when grading.”

Schools are failing these kids

Equity grading does a tremendous disservice to students and society, but it does benefit underperforming teachers.

If a student does not understand basic concepts, yet manages to pass classes without even mandatory summer school, whose interest does this serve beyond an ineffective teacher? That student will continue into graduation without the knowledge one needs to succeed in life and in the workforce. The school is sending the message that you don’t have to master a subject, you just have to try to master it. I hope we don’t extend that philosophy to being a pilot or doctor. You don’t have to actually learn to fly or remove an appendix; you just need to show you tried before landing the job at an airline or a hospital.

And how is society served by a population that doesn’t know math or English and history? These kids won’t get jobs because they’re not qualified thanks to a poor education, while radicals will claim the standards are just too high or some kind of systemic bigotry kept them unemployed.

While it’s not always a teacher’s fault if a student cannot grasp a subject matter, they do obviously play a role. And when there’s a pattern of students earning F’s or D’s — as informed by objective testing (in math, for example, it’s very easy to objectively judge mastery of the subject unless you’re in the “math is racist” crowd) — it can show a teacher is to blame. But the very ones being judged in the classroom for student performance are the ones whose “professional judgment” should be trusted when it comes to their own performance.

Are teachers going to lie to protect their school record? Janes’ kid seems to be a good example that the answer is yes.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show on weekday afternoons from 3:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). He is the author of the book What’s Killing America: Inside the Radical Left’s Tragic Destruction of Our CitiesSubscribe to the podcast. Follow @JasonRantz on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook. Check back frequently for more news and analysis.

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Rantz: Mom took on ‘equity grading’ to get child the ‘F’ she earned