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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Set up to fail: In real life, you've got to show up and do the work

"Equitable grading" is supposed to be fairer to students who have trouble completing homework, getting to school on time and studying for tests, writes Sara Randazzo in the Wall Street Journal.

Typically, students get multiple opportunities to retake tests and complete assignments. If they never turn in work, the minimum grade is 50 percent, so they don't give up on earning a passing grade for the course. Students don't lose points for behaviors such as poor attendance or get extra credit for good behavior.

School systems across the country, including the giant Clark County, Nevada district, which includes Las Vegas, are going "equitable," writes Randazzo.

At first, Las Vegas English teacher Laura Jeanne Penrod liked the idea of evaluating students on end-of-course mastery rather than their ability to meet deadlines. However, she noticed even her 11th-grade honors students aren't brainstorming and writing rough drafts of essays the way they used to. Few teenagers have the "intrinsic motivation" to work harder than they have to, she said.

“If you go to a job in real life, you can’t pick and choose what tasks you want to do and only do the quote big ones,” said Alyson Henderson, also a high-school English teacher. “We’re really setting students up for a false sense of reality.”

Samuel Hwang, a senior at Ed W. Clark High School in Las Vegas, has spoken out against the grading changes, saying they provide incentives for poor work habits. A straight-A student headed to the University of Chicago next year, Samuel said even classmates in honors and Advanced Placement classes are prone to skip class now unless there is an exam.
“There’s an apathy that pervades the entire classroom,” he said.

Consultant Joe Feldman, a former teacher and administrator, has worked with 50 school districts on changing grading, he told Randazzo. “Classrooms are pressure cookers,” he said. Students are "now able to relax, say, ‘I can have a bad day,’ and spend more time on things. It changes the way the classroom feels.”

A pre-pandemic study by Feldman's Crescendo Group showed equitable grading decreased Ds and Fs on report cards. That's not surprising in a system that starts the grading scale at 50 percent. The study also showed fewer A's. That could reflect the honors students who decided they could relax.

Lax grading policies lead to classroom chaos, writes Meredith Coffey on Fordham's Flypaper blog. Students lose focus on classwork. Off-task students act up and their misbehavior is contagious.

Handing out grades as though they were "participation trophies" is a mistake, writes Tom Knighton on Tilting at Windmills. "Equitable" grading doesn't reward students for effort. They're rewarded "simply for existing."

Low expectations set students up for failure, writes Kaylee McGhee White in the Washington Examiner. "Why should children from any background, but especially those facing difficulties, expect to succeed if the adults in their lives have already assumed they won’t?

In my "lived experience" as a journalist -- and an adult -- deadlines matter. Learning how to plan your time to get the job done is one of the most valuable life skills anyone can have. Also: You have to show up.

Years ago, in my newspaper days, I talked to employers for a series called "Learning to work" about career preparation programs. What did they want from entry-level workers? They all said: They have to show up every day prepared to work. They didn't expect strong academic skills from high school graduates or even from those with "some college." They really, really wanted them to show up. A machine shop owner loved hiring Vietnamese immigrants. "They don't speak English, but they know some math," he said. "They show up!"

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