A school district in Illinois is considering implementing “equitable grading,” which would focus more on evaluating student learning than class participation or homework. A conservative website misrepresented the idea as a “race-based grading system” in a story that went viral. The equitable grading system would apply to all students.
A website called West Cook News — which is part of a network of sites that look like news outlets and are connected to a conservative think tank — posted a story on May 30 that misrepresented and politicized a suburban Chicago school board meeting.
The headline on the story claimed: “OPRF [Oak Park and River Forest High School] to implement race-based grading system in 2022-23 school year.”
The story also claims the school administration “will require teachers next school year to adjust their classroom grading scales to account for the skin color or ethnicity of its students.”
It’s been shared by conservative commentators and social media accounts — including Ann Coulter and Libs of TikTok, which has more than a million followers on Twitter — and it’s been picked up by partisan outlets such as National Review and RedState.
But the claims made in the story are wrong.
The schools have no plan to implement a grading system based on race, the district clarified in a statement responding to the viral claim.
The district said that it “does not, nor has it ever had a plan to, grade any students differently based on race.”
The story had misrepresented a presentation at the school board’s May 26 meeting, during which the assistant superintendent for student learning, Laurie Fiorenza, discussed phasing in equitable grading.
“We know that traditional grading practices perpetuate inequities,” Fiorenza said. So, some teachers in the district had been researching and using equitable grading practices. “As we move into next year, we’re going to focus on establishing a building-wide equitable grading philosophy,” she said.
The focus of equitable grading is evaluating how much a student has learned, rather than how much they have participated in class or timely completion of their homework assignments. Those types of benchmarks are built in to conventional grading systems and typically affect low-income, special education, Black and Latino students, according to an explainer from the National School Boards Association. Equitable grading also introduces a more objective and transparent scale for grading that is consistent among all teachers.
“In many schools teachers base students’ grades on a combination of measures of achievement (i.e. scores on assessments, projects, reports, compositions, etc.) and behavior indicators (i.e., homework completion, class participation, effort, punctuality in turning in assignments, etc.),” Thomas Guskey, a professor at the University of Kentucky and an expert on student assessment and grading, told us in an email. “This distorts the meaning of grades and makes them impossible to interpret accurately.”
“In addition,” he said, including the non-academic factors, like the behavior indicators, “disproportionately affects the grades of certain students, especially students of color, students who are English-learners, and students in poverty. More equitable grading practices typically involve removing these non-academic factors from an achievement grade and, if considered important, reporting them separately.”
Guskey wrote the book that the school district is using as a guide for revising its grading system.
Educators across the country have been similarly rethinking grading since disruptions to school during the pandemic highlighted existing problems, according to a recent article from the National Education Association. For example, the two largest school districts in California have shifted to equitable grading and the Oregon Department of Education is urging teachers to adopt the practice.
Following the May 26 presentation, Ralph Martire, vice president of the school board, anticipated the kind of misunderstanding illustrated by the West Cook News story.
“Equitable grading practices — people are going to hear that and not understand it,” he said. “So I want to be very clear that in equitable grading practice … means the objective assessment of academic mastery. Academic mastery is not a dumbing down. It is not making concessions for this, that and the third thing. It’s finding a way to be objective about determining whether a student has mastered the academic concept, because too often subjective evaluations are made that can be off. That’s where inequity comes in. So it’s getting to an objective measurement of student mastery of academic concepts.”
So, the district isn’t planning to base its grading scale on race, as the West Cook News story claimed. Rather, it’s developing a grading system that would apply to all students the same way and may have the effect of equalizing grading for certain students, including low-income, Black and Latino students. Any districtwide changes would be presented in a public meeting before the school board votes on whether to adopt them.
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.
Bengani, Priyanjana. “The Metric Media network runs more than 1,200 local news sites. Here are some of the non-profits funding them.” Columbia Journalism Review. 14 Oct 2021.
Oak Park and River Forest High School. Press release. “Statement regarding grading practices.” 31 May 2022.
Oak Park and River Forest High School. “D200 Board of Education Regular Meeting – May 26, 2022.” YouTube. 26 May 2022.
National School Boards Association. “Accurate and Equitable Grading.” 3 Feb 2020.
Guskey, Thomas. Professor, University of Kentucky. Email interview with FactCheck.org. 8 Jun 2022.
Walker, Tim. “‘Amazing and Very Challenging’: More Educators Rethink Grading.” National Education Association. 14 May 2021.
Esquivel, Paloma. “Faced with soaring Ds and Fs, schools are ditching the old way of grading.” Los Angeles Times. 8 Nov 2021.
Oregon Department of Education. “2021-22 Equitable Grading Practices PLC.” Accessed 6 Jun 2022.