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(De)Grading for Equity: New grading scheme arriving soon to NAIS private schools

(De)Grading for Equity: New grading scheme arriving soon to NAIS private schools

An upcoming “Equity Design Lab” signals new grading practices at elite NAIS schools, explicitly designed to benefit some racialized groups while disadvantaging others.

The National Association of Independent Schools is hosting an upcoming “Equity Design Lab” in July 2022 for teachers and administrators, led by Joe Feldman, the author of the influential 2018 book Grading for Equity: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How It Can Transform Schools and Classrooms.

Feldman’s book was a primary resource used at a Chicago-area high school to produce controversial grading changes for all their students. Oak Park and River Forest High School administrators plan to “integrate equitable assessment and grading practices into all academic and elective courses” by Fall of 2023.

According to Feldman, group differences in the grade outcomes students earn are inherently discriminatory, and often reflect unexamined teacher biases. To address these injustices requires actively dismantling traditional grading practices, substituting new assessment methods that favor some groups over others.

Selling Race-Based Outcomes

In a 2019 report available at the website of his consultancy Crescendo Education Group, Feldman claims that one of his interventions resulted in relatively fewer “non-white” students being “assigned” D’s or F’s as well as relatively fewer “white” students “assigned” A grades. (Hmm, when did grades become “assigned” rather than earned?)

To equity grading advocates like Feldman, the status quo is de facto inequitable in that it results in disparate outcomes. And although Grading for Equity’s prescriptions are not “race-based” in that they do not grade individual students differently based on their race, they are nonetheless engineered to result in equal outcomes for racialized groups, based on the Kendiist ideas that “Where I see racial disparities, I see racism,” and that “The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.”  Other reasons for differences in learning outcomessuch as those having to do with how different students may choose to prioritize their academicsare completely ignored or assumed to be the function of privilege. Instead, the author points to “traditional grading practices” as the cause of existing disparities.

On their website, Crescendo bills itself as “a team of consultants – current and former teachers and school / district administrators – who believe that the most powerful way to improve student achievement, particularly for historically underserved populations, is to create powerful learning experiences for the education professionals in schools and districts.” Crescendo’s client list already includes two prestigious NAIS privates: Georgetown Day School and Phillips Exeter Academy.

What “Grading for Equity” looks like in practice

NAIS school parents should be on the lookout for major changes to grading policies at their private school next year, but what will those changes look like? Feldman’s prescription is to completely “reimagine” grading, in the following ways:

No more zeros and the death of deadlines: Homework that isn’t turned in should not receive a zero, and teachers should accept late work, even weeks or months late, with no grade penalty. Since students who do not turn in work or show up to class cannot be assumed to know nothing about a topic, it would be unfair to assign them a zero. (p. 76).

Homework, classwork, participation and effort should all be excluded from a course grade. “Equitable grading that is accurate and bias-resistant includes nothing other than a student’s summative assessment results” (p. 143). In other words, ideally 100% of a student’s marking period grade should result from their test scores. However, allowing potentially unlimited retake opportunities will supposedly alleviate any test anxiety that results from this single assessment category (see below).

Test “retakes should be available whenever a students wants to improve their performance.” Earlier, lesser scores should not factor into the grade at all. Even after the semester is over, a grade can potentially be changed. In cases when a later attempt results in a lower score, “examining the causes of the lower performance will reveal the right solution to ensuring that the grading is equitable.” It’s left unclear how these sorts of instances of “professional discretion” are any less prone to instances of bias Feldman is trying to alleviate. In response to skeptics who suggest an infinite-retake policy might set students up to fail in the real world, Feldman makes the remarkable claim that, actually, the real world is a forgiving place:

“The person taking your order in a restaurant can send it back to the kitchen to be corrected, the painter who forgets to apply primer can remove the paint and start over, the teacher whose first period class doesn’t go well can change things for second period and can even come back to first period the next day and reteach. The software programmers who make a coding error later send a patch. Sure there will be extra time and resources spent on all these examples, but that’s no different requiring the student to spend time after school to study and prepare for the retest.”

I find myself wondering if Joe Feldman has ever had to produce anything on budget. But moving on,

The 0-100 scale should be abandoned, and the letter grades A-F should correspond instead to a 0-4 scale. Where previously a student who only knows half of a course’s content would earn 50%, a failing grade, now knowing half the content or having half the level of skill would earn a C. This drastically reduces the baseline level of knowledge needed for passing a course.

Cumulative marking period grades should only include the most recent grade, in cases when a student shows improvement over time, and earlier test scores shouldn’t be averaged with later ones. However, in cases where the more recent grade is lower than the previous grade, a teacher should again “use professional discretion.” This approach might be accurate in courses where students spend an entire quarter mastering the same skill (like writing a persuasive essay) or where they learning the same content over the course of an entire quarter. But most courses present students with different units of content (and different skills) over the course of a quarter. In such cases, only counting the most recent grade would assign a result that doesn’t accurately reflect a student’s comprehensive knowledge of several areas. And such an approach unnecessarily disincentivizes the student who consistently excels. In addition to typecasting these students as “lucky” or “privileged”, Feldman finds it inherently inequitable to distinguish between the student that earns A’s all semester from the student that goes from C’s and D’s to an A. (p. 98-100)

Students who cheat on an assignment or test should not receive any grade penalty, since in Feldman’s view, grades should only reflect a student’s knowledge of a subject, not their ethics, effort, attitude, or behavior.

To be fair, some of Feldman’s recommendations make more sense, such as not assigning the same group grade to every member of a team in collaborative work, avoiding extra credit (in my own experience, generally the students who need extra credit don’t do it, and those that don’t, do) and increasing standards transparency for students with rubrics so that they understand the meaning of the letter grades they earn. Also, I agree with him that assessment categories should at least be standardized across courses (and probably departments). Two Algebra 2 students in different sections who understand the same amount shouldn’t be earning very different grades depending on the teacher. But in my experience, standardizing assessment across courses and even departments is already a priority in many schools.

Uncomfortable with such changes? “Be less skeptical.”

Feldman frames the resistance of skeptical teachers and administrators in much the same way that DEI promoters treat Critical Race Theory skepticspushback is interpreted as a sign of stubbornness, fragility and being “stuck in one’s ways.” He urges doubters to:

“try to put aside your devil’s advocate stancewhy these practices can’t possibly workand try an ‘angel’s advocate’ stance: Envision the possibilities and potential for teachers and students if we were to grade differentlymore fairly, accurately, and equitably.”

The book also extensively cites educational research, but almost all of it supports only the theoretical framework behind Feldman’s proposals, not the specific proposals themselves. “Grading for Equity” relies most heavily on anecdotal stories and testimonials from enthusiastic teachers and students in order to justify its specific prescriptions. Feldman’s consultancy, Crescendo Education Group, has a “results page” that aims to demonstrate the increased accuracy of the more “equitable grades” that result from his interventions, but contain only a single year’s worth of changes from a single Los Angeles charter middle school 8 years ago. It’s also a red flag that his accuracy results reference only a single one of the three schools evaluated for equity. And there are no details about whether his recommended changes were implemented comprehensively or if teachers at these schools could use their discretion as to whether they could apply them a la carte.

Feldman also claims to reduce grade inflationbut according to his own published results, this reduction in inflation only applies to the top of the scale. By diminishing the grades of high achieving students while also resulting in fewer D’s and F’s, Grading For Equity effectively flattens the grade distribution overall. There’s another word for this kind of result that comes to mindmediocrity.

I reached out to Mr. Feldman asking if he had any more support for his interventions, but as of this writing he had not yet responded.


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Beyond stupid! Now we are institutionalizing the soft racism of low expectations.

Perhaps Mr. Feldman would be just fine with his heart surgeon being a product of such a program. After all, he can always redo the heat surgery, right?

    JoAnne in reply to Doc Brown. | June 28, 2022 at 3:06 am

    I had the same thought. This is insane.

    henrybowman in reply to Doc Brown. | June 28, 2022 at 3:24 pm

    “the painter who forgets to apply primer can remove the paint and start over”
    One wonders if these people have ever actually used house paint. Or paid for the paint and/or the painter’s labor to do the job twice.

    “software programmers who make a coding error later send a patch.”
    Do they also have to attend the funerals of all the passengers in the airliner crash?

Diversity [dogma] (i.e. color judgment, class-based bigotry), Inequity, and Exclusion (DIE).

Re: “According to Feldman, group differences in the grade outcomes students earn are inherently discriminatory …”

IMO, that comment is BS. Has he never heard of the bell curve distribution of IQ, or that there are well-documented differences by groups. He sounds like one of the “math is racist” people.

    pfg in reply to jb4. | June 27, 2022 at 10:35 pm

    Charles Murray has documented this to a fare-thee-well. The left will not listen.

    PaoloP in reply to jb4. | June 28, 2022 at 1:44 am

    It’s not necessary to consider the bell distribution of IQ. The very concept that we have to avoid bad grade for students who don’t show up in class, don’t work at home, don’t understand the subject matter is a recipe for the creation of Idiocracy – a country where intelligence, responsibility, brilliancy are punished, while incompetence, cheating, groupthink are encouraged.

    It’s difficult to conceive a more unjust, destructive educational system; everything is tailor-made to fit the woke bureaucracy’s interests:
    – identity group thinking become the sole standard, granting the woke unlimited, unquestionable power;
    – education level is guaranteed to drop on any objective level, but the woke will show that the learning gap has been reduced, bragging about their success, which is of course only shameless fraud.

    A nightmare.

      randian in reply to PaoloP. | June 28, 2022 at 12:03 pm

      It’s difficult to conceive a more unjust, destructive educational system

      It’s already been conceived: Harrison Bergeron.

      henrybowman in reply to PaoloP. | June 28, 2022 at 3:27 pm

      And all it takes for these ideas to take hold is for some jackass to write a book, and another jackass to critically praise it. Then teachers all across America start promoting this “new thing” being promoted by “experts in our field” that will make their jobs 50% easier, make their stats look 50% better, and if it doesn’t work out, 0% blame for them. No conspiracy theory needed except good old dependable basic human laziness.

texansamurai | June 27, 2022 at 10:03 pm

so levon (who is functionally illiterate), didn’t attend class regularly, didn’t participate when he did attend, didn’t complete his homework, cheated on his tests and can demonstrate virtually no practical/retained knowledge of the course material IS ENTITLED TO THE SAME “GRADE” as scott who didn’t miss a day, actively participated and contributed to every class, completed his homework on time and satisfactorily, aced his tests and can demonstrate a significant retained knowledge and comprehension of the course material ?


    The Gentle Grizzly in reply to texansamurai. | June 27, 2022 at 10:45 pm

    Levon I I’ll get the job thst Scott is denied. Scott beez a honkey.

    Gosport in reply to texansamurai. | June 27, 2022 at 11:50 pm

    Yes, but Scott gets what will become quietly known as a ‘White A”.

    That of course will eventually trigger exactly the racist hiring and promotion standards that society is falsely accused of now.

    And the marxists know that.

      randian in reply to Gosport. | June 28, 2022 at 12:07 pm

      Scott gets what will become quietly known as a ‘White A”.

      If I correctly understand what is being proposed, Scott won’t even get an A, just to even things up.

I don’t grade on effort (“But Miss, I worked on this for hours!” [and it’s still crap]). But everything else? Stupid. Just stupid. Why do I have a lesson or three on ethical speaking when I’d have to let Plagiarizing Peter off the hook? Nope.

Best grading system: If tuition is paid in full before the beginning of the school year, you’re guaranteed an A-. If your parents add a gift equal to at least 10% of the tuition, you’re guaranteed an A. If 20% or more of tuition, A+.

Another Voice | June 27, 2022 at 10:45 pm

And this will get you into Med. / Vet. school How?????
Does anyone want to guesstimate the outcome 12 years from now?

Not just stupid…but asinine stupid.

    caseoftheblues in reply to Another Voice. | June 28, 2022 at 7:00 am

    They are already doing this and worse in med schools to virtue signal their equity …..letting in unqualified applicants and passing them despite how little mastery they have of the material. We have some very very incompetent docs in the pipeline

healthguyfsu | June 27, 2022 at 10:59 pm

If this goes into effect, turn in rates for assigned materials will plummet. Of those that turn it in, an even smaller percentage will actually review it for performance feedback. No one will study for tests, and they will simply retake until they fix all of the mistakes through basic memory and process of elimination.

    “they fix all of the mistakes through basic memory and process of elimination.”
    Basic memory not necessary, exams likely “open book” or “take home”.

      MaxFarquaad in reply to SHV. | June 28, 2022 at 4:26 pm

      even if it is not “officially” open book or take home, you can cheat with impunity as often as you need to get a better grade

There is only one real surprise in their supposed client list. 5 0f 9 schools are in California, one in Georgetown (D.C.), one a sub-campus of SUNY, and the surprising one is Phillips Andover Academy in MA.

PAA is of course a very highly regarded prep school with a long list of famous and accomplished alumni. However, the school is playing with fire by dabbling with this wokism. Academic admission requirements will certainly suffer for one. It’s not much of a leap to assume their graduates won’t be as highly perceived as before either.

Given that the annual tuition for day schoolers is a cool $51,380 ($66, 290 for boarders) one would think their return on investment is going to make caring parents look elsewhere.

    henrybowman in reply to Gosport. | June 28, 2022 at 3:31 pm

    My take is different. They already have the reputation, and the pipeline to elite government jobs. They can now relax all their standards and simply accept huge tuitions to promote dynasty scions into lifetime employment as tyrants, with no actual education necessary.

Let’s cut to the chase. Give all non Asian minority students As and all whites and Asians Cs. What could be more equitable than that?

    Milwaukee in reply to Richard. | June 28, 2022 at 8:53 am

    Too generous. Make Whites and Asians roll dice for C, D, or F. Come on man.

    Sometimes a vaginaed student might get a B-.

I’d suggest the “traditional grading practices” are what keep airplanes, buildings, and bridges up, surgeries successful, and governments honest.

    henrybowman in reply to Owego. | June 28, 2022 at 3:32 pm

    Here’s a fervent hope that all these “do-over” students become vets, and work on their old teachers’ cats.

Imagine if these people and their resources would put their efforts into actually helping students learn.

The Gentle Grizzly | June 28, 2022 at 8:33 am

I can see a new phrase entering American usage. We already have “[African American] time” for tardiness. Soon “[African American] grade average” and variations.

I know too many who have striven for REAL high grades and REAL success and they despise affirmative action. It’s not fair.

taurus the judge | June 28, 2022 at 10:06 am

Lowering the standard to give the illusion of performance

The liberal way

As a theoretical discussion the ‘Angels stance’ has merit because that’s how reasonable people have a rational debate. The proponents should put their kids into a school alongside others whom they hope this will benefit. Run the experiment from k – college graduation plus 5 years work history post college graduation. Then analyze the results v a control group using traditional methods and markers of content mastery. What was the result on standardized testing? SAT/ACT/GRE/LSAT/MCAT? College admissions rate? First college choice acceptance rate? Hiring in their field? Sustained employment in their field?

We know it won’t work but if they want to use their own kids as a test bed for two decades then have at it but leave the rest of us out of your delusional fantasy world.

    henrybowman in reply to CommoChief. | June 28, 2022 at 3:35 pm

    And for the kids for whom it doesn’t work… they can always teach them over.

    artichoke in reply to CommoChief. | June 28, 2022 at 11:03 pm

    They had hoped the SAT and all those others would be gone by now. Their continued presence will lead to embarrassments, and they’ll just have to say the tests are inequitable!

taurus the judge | June 28, 2022 at 11:53 am

I can hear it now

” Oh Hercules” ” Oh Hercules” ” Oh Hercules”

Woke grading for woke schools.
Fortunately, NAIS represents a small portion of schools.
I wonder if the woke parents will wake up when their kids grades are negatively effected by this scheme?

    mimi6 in reply to CaptTee. | June 28, 2022 at 12:25 pm

    It is a small percentage of schools but most NAIS schools send 100% of their grads to college. This idiotic system has the potential to “trickle up”through these unprepared students.

MaxFarquaad | June 28, 2022 at 4:38 pm

So this guy already has a “textbook” in print and his consulting company is ready for hire (as trainers, consultants, and support). Now he’s just marketing to get fat juicy education contracts. Start with private schools, then fomo into public schools.

No regard for the incredible damage he is pushing by de-educating the body politic.

Sounds like he is the racist one (and obviously plain evil), looking to increase the disparity between the haves and have-nots by making dumb kids…who turn into dumb adults, easily manipulated with specious and irrational arguments.

I still don’t get it. I think they’re hiding a lot.

To grade based only on performance, the standard is to give an end-of-unit or end-of-semester exam and grade it blind. This is the method used in college. If they’re telling that method will give MORE equal results between say blacks and whites, it goes against many other findings I’ve seen in years past. So I don’t believe it, and I don’t think this is close to what they’re doing.

Maybe they’re giving everyone a B or a C. It’s pretty hard to get a B, almost trivial to get a C. Done, that’s equity!

try to put aside your devil’s advocate stance—why these practices can’t possibly work—and try an ‘angel’s advocate’ stance: Envision the possibilities and potential

The credo of cult leaders and snake oil salesmen everywhere.