When schools closed and classes went online, expectations fell. Some students had trouble accessing classes or younger siblings to tend or jobs essential for paying the family’s rent. Teachers were told to give “grace” and flexibility in a time of crisis.
Now there’s a push to make
easier grading and lower expectations the norm, wrote Eric Wolf Welch, a Virginia teacher, in an email to Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews. It’s “dangerous,” he believes.
A long-time social studies teacher at a Fairfax County high school, Welch runs AVID, a college readiness program for disadvantaged students. He prepares them to succeed in rigorous courses, such as the International Baccalaureate.
Administrators began lowering standards before the pandemic, when accountability shifted from standardized test scores to graduation rates, Welch said in his email. They let failing students retake tests and turn in late (or no) work, stopped counting attendance or class participation towards a grade, and offered short online courses to provide a year’s worth of credit.
That’s OK for the bottom 20 percent of students, who otherwise would fail, he wrote. But now the education system is considering using these alternatives for all students. “It is becoming the rule,” not the exception, he told Mathews.
To those calling for grading reform, he said, equity means “we should not expect students of color, low-income, and/or non-native English speaking backgrounds to do things like homework, participate in class, or meet deadlines because these students have disadvantages.” “I wholeheartedly believe this is not equity,” Welch said. His beginning years as a teacher in New York City and Fairfax County taught him that “equity means holding all students to high expectations, even when it may be difficult for them to meet those expectations.” To do otherwise, he said, “would be cheating students out of an education they deserve and need to compete in the world.”
Students can learn to manage academic pressures, such as meeting homework deadlines, Welch argues. It’s an important lesson best learned early.
Most high school graduates enroll in college. They will fail, unless they’re able to manage their time and cope with stress. If they go straight into the workforce, they’ll need those skills too.