Two UC Irvine students enroll in the same entry-level course, Writing 39A; however, both come from very different backgrounds and from academic institutions that provide different resources.
The first student comes from a high income community and attended high school with well funded academic programs and abundant resources. They’ve already learned the basics of writing a compelling essay. The second student is from a low-income community and attended a local public school with less funding and received a lower quality education. They did not have access to resources such as newer textbooks, school supplies or academic tutors. At first, the second student did poorly on his writing homework while the first student excelled. However, both students were writing equally compelling essays at the end of the term. Even though both students completed the course at the same proficiency level, the first student scored significantly higher in the class because he had an initial advantage.
Scoring should reflect the outcome of learning – it should not just consist of points and percentages. With our current education system, the quality of a student’s education can have a significant impact on the overall grade they receive. In recent years, many educators have supported the idea of moving from a traditional point-based scoring to a more qualitative assessment of a student’s academic progress and growth. Qualitative assessments can take the form of rubrics that judge a student’s demonstrated competence in a particular skill.
This new style of grading is a necessary change in our flawed and inequitable education system, which disproportionately disadvantages low-income and generally black and Latinx students while benefiting high-income and generally white students. This trend is in large part due to the inequality of funding in different school districts.
The Los Angeles Unified (LA Unified) and San Diego Unified School Districts recently asked teachers to review their grading methods. They suggested that academic grades should reflect how well a student has met their learning goals, and that students should not be penalized for their behavior, attendance, participation, work habits, or missed deadlines. Grace periods and opportunities to revise or improve trials and tests are also encouraged.
In a letter from the academic office of LA Unified, educational grading consultant Joe Feldman wrote: “By continuing to use century-old grading practices, we are inadvertently perpetuating the gaps in achievement and opportunity, rewarding our top students. more privileged and punishing those who are not. “
This is an important step in promoting fairer rating practices. As the two largest school districts in the state with more than 660,000 students combined, LA and San Diego Unified can act as leaders in a movement to encourage more districts and counties to adopt equitable policies.
Although the traditional classification has always fostered a divide between economic class and racial groups, the pandemic has accelerated and amplified these inequalities. As the number of students in need grew, the number of students in LA and San Diego school districts who received D’s and F’s increased.
A recent LA Times analysis of the LA Unified assessment indicated that in the 2018-19 school year, approximately 59% of students qualified for admission to the University of California and the United States. California State University of a C or better in some courses. For the class of 2022, this statistic rose to 46% of students. The analysis noted a gap of 17 percentage points or more between black and Latin students and white and Asian students.
In addition to bridging the gaps between race and class, the new grading system will also help motivate students to learn. Point-based scoring systems turn learning into an all-point conversation, to the detriment of actual content. Systems, such as the one suggested by the Unified Districts of Los Angeles and San Diego, will encourage students to think more critically and creatively. Students will be assessed on their growth as opposed to their mastery, and their process as opposed to their product.
While there are clear learning and equity benefits to a new grading system, these changes will be difficult to implement universally because the American education system is so steeped in tradition. Teachers and parents have expressed skepticism about its effectiveness in motivating students and concern about possible negative repercussions on a student’s work habits, especially with less strict deadlines. Ultimately, grading reforms help protect the quality of learning and increase the chances of academic success. More school districts should be inspired to take inspiration from the new policy adopted by the unified districts of Los Angeles and San Diego.
Erika Cao is an opinion intern for the fall term 2021. She can be contacted at email@example.com.