Virginia teachers fire back after school district mulls implementing more ‘equitable’ grading system

Teachers in Virginia are pushing back against a proposal from the Arlington, Virginia school board that would implement more “equitable” grading practices.

The proposal, according to WJLA, would remove late penalties for homework assignments, no longer allow students to earn extra credit, would allow for unlimited redoes of assignments, and would eliminate grading on homework assignments.

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The supporters of the proposal say that late penalties lead to inaccurate grades and that students with fewer resources are penalized when other students are able to complete extra credit assignments. Additionally, it has been suggested that students should not be graded on homework assignments because the fear of making mistakes will have a negative impact on their learning process.

“There’s no labeling of students or ranking of students,” Dr. Erin Russo, the Principal of Discovery Elementary, said during a meeting on the proposal. “It’s the ownership of what do I need to work on and where am I?”

However, teachers at Wakefield High School in Virginia sent a letter to the Arlington County Superintendent pushing back against the proposal.

“As educators with decades of experience in APS, we are extremely concerned with several changes proposed in the new grading and homework policy,” the letter said. “We believe that these changes will impact student learning and socio-emotional development and growth in a negative way. The changes, if implemented, will also result in the decline of high expectations and rigor in the classroom across all APS high schools.”

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The letter states that deadlines and corrections help children “develop organizational, time and stress management skills and grow as responsible, civically engaged, and considerate young adults” and that “to achieve these ends, students should be held accountable for completing their work in a timely manner and meeting deadlines that were reasonably established by their teachers.”

14 September 2021, Bavaria, Munich: An empty classroom with the chairs up. Photo: Peter Kneffel/dpa (Photo by Peter Kneffel/picture alliance via Getty Images)

14 September 2021, Bavaria, Munich: An empty classroom with the chairs up. Photo: Peter Kneffel/dpa (Photo by Peter Kneffel/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Teachers also expressed concern that without grading and deadlines for assignments would create a “nightmare scenario” for evaluating teachers.

“Finally, given the emphasis on equity in today’s education systems, we believe that some of the proposed changes will actually have a detrimental impact towards achieving this goal,” the letter adds. “Families that have means could still provide challenging and engaging academic experiences for their children and will continue to do so, especially if their child(ren) are not experiencing expected rigor in the classroom. More specifically, those families can afford to hire tutors and sign-up their child(ren) to attend enrichment activities and camps in hopes of preparing them for the college application/admission process. Students who come from families which are not as ‘savvy’ or ‘aware,’ will be subject to further disadvantage because they will not be held accountable for not completing their homework assignments and/or formative assessments according to the deadlines set by their teachers: such results are anything but equitable–conversely, they offer our most needy students reduced probability of preparing for and realizing post-secondary opportunities.”

A spokesperson for Arlington Public Schools said the district is still in the process of evaluating current grading and homework policies.

“This work is being done as part of the School Board’s work to update all policies and PIPs,” a spokesperson said. “As of right now, we are having preliminary conversations with instructional staff as to what makes sense in policy and what makes sense in practice at schools. There are two phases of the process before the School Board is scheduled to act on any recommendations in May. As part of Phase1, we provided some ideas for staff to look at as a starting point and asked all Instructional Lead Teachers to gather feedback from school-based staff on the first working drafts. This is the first of several opportunities for all teachers to provide feedback. Selected staff from each building will also participate directly in the revision process in Phase 2.”