COMMENTARY: School Grading Practices Are Inaccurate and Inequitable to Black Children

COMMENTARY: School Grading Practices Are Inaccurate and Inequitable to Black Children

By Joe Feldman, Founder, Crescendo Education Group

The battle for equity in our schools is not only a fight to guarantee access to great teaching and high-quality learning environments, programs, and materials. The battle for equity also includes the practices and policies that teachers use to describe students’ success or failure in school. An issue often overlooked, grading, is of critical importance. Grades determine so many decisions made about our children: whether they are promoted, qualify to play on the athletic field, graduate, receive scholarships, and get accepted to college. Unfortunately, in too many schools and classrooms, teachers often unwittingly assign grades in ways that are unfair and make success more difficult for black and other underserved children. Teachers go to great lengths to identify what percentage quizzes, homework, tests, extra credit, and class participation count towards the overall grade, but the seemingly objective way educators determine grades are often inaccurate, hide student achievement, and actually perpetuate achievement gaps.

First, teachers inject subjectivity and biases into their grading. In much the way that schools’ disciplinary actions often disproportionately punish African-American, Latino, low-income, and students with special needs, too often traditional grading practices are often corrupted by implicit racial, class, and gender biases that affect individual teachers’ grading. Teachers often include in grades a student’s “effort” or “participation”—a subjective judgment about that student which may have nothing to do with how much the student has learned.

Second, traditional grading rewards students with privilege and punishes students without them. When teachers award points for completing homework and extra credit, they are giving advantages to students with greater resources—those with college educated parents who are available at home and can help with homework or the extra credit assignments—and making it harder for students who have weaker education backgrounds and fewer supports.

Third, grading is often  based on calculations that depress student achievement and do not account for progress students make. A student may fail early on, but if they dramatically improve, their initial grades of F combined with subsequent grades of A average to a C for their final grade. This is a mathematically unsound approach that punishes students who have early struggles and conceals their progress and final achievement.

Even though teachers are dedicated to having every student succeed, they have never been trained in how to grade. They grade how they were graded, and perpetuate the same unfair and biased methods. Fortunately, new research has illuminated the harms of traditional grading and identified more equitable grading practices that are based on sound mathematical principles that (1)don’t average performance over time, (2)value growth and knowledge instead of environment or behavior, and (3) build soft skills like teamwork and communications skills without including them in grades. Grades based on these approaches have been shown to reduce failure rates, particularly for historically underserved students, and empowers teachers to create more caring classrooms.

But ensuring that schools grade students equitably isn’t just the responsibility of teachers and principals. Parents have a crucial role to play. Parents can begin by asking their child’s teacher a simple question: What would be my child’s grade if it were based solely on their academic performance? This can start an important and clarifying discussion with the teacher while encouraging the entire school to tackle a problem many have been unwilling to address.  It is pertinent that parents understand what grades mean. As educators it is important that we  ensure grades clearly communicate a student’s academic performance?

It’s time for parents and teachers to ask these questions about grading. If we expect our children to succeed in school, we need to be sure that they are graded accurately and fairly.  If we believe that our students can compete on the world stage, then we’d better make sure that we have grades that tell us clearly if they’re ready.

Joe Feldman is a former teacher and school and district administrator who is the founder of the Oakland, CA-based Crescendo Education Group, which helps educators introduce more equitable grading practice. He is the author of Grading for Equity, published recently by Corwin Press, and the paper, School Grading Policies are Failing Children: How We Can Create a More Equitable System.

Do children all need to succeed the same way?

Do children all need to succeed the same way?

By: Dr. Elizabeth Primas,
Program Manager, NNPA ESSA Public Awareness Campaign

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines standards as, “something established by authority, custom, or general consent as a model or example. For example,” the Egyptians established the 365-day calendar, recording 4236 BC as the first year in recorded history. Around 1100 AD in England, it was determined that the length of King Henry Beauclerc’s foot would be used for the standard measurement of a linear foot.

These standards of time and linear measurement are still widely used and accepted today. During the Civil War, America recognized a need for standardized gauges for the railroads so that parts were easily inter-changeable. Standards continue to remain essential aspects of organization as societies increase in size and complexity. The same concept applies to academic standards in education.

In the mid-twentieth century, educators adopted academic standards. Those standards were designed to ensure that all students progressed at relatively the same pace while acquiring the skills necessary to become contributing members of society.

One example of this is the adoption of a Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) by the District of Columbia in the 1980s. CBC consisted of a series of skill sets within a hierarchy. Students were required to demonstrate mastery of the skills at one level before progressing to the next. Teachers were required to teach/test/reteach (if necessary) and then retest. Once students demonstrated mastery, they received a score that reflected such. The score did not entail how many times the teacher had to reteach and retest before the students acquired the intended skillset.

A more recent example of academic standards is the 2009 states-focused effort to create clear, consistent, and competitive learning goals, resulting in the Common Core State Standards. Common Core State Standards were adopted by 48 states, two territories and the District of Columbia. The federal government supported the validity of Common Core Standards by providing financial incentives for state adoption.

Proponents of Common Core Standards argue that the standards provide students with the necessary knowledge to succeed in college and career regardless of geographical location. However, many critics have argued against this, emphasizing resulting ambiguity, lack of training, and lowered student expectations as the key points the identify a policy in need of revision. In 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act, a re-authorization of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESSA), offered a resolution.

Under ESSA, states have the option of keeping Common Core State Standards or creating their own state standards. The financial incentive to adopt Common Core by the federal government no longer exists and the option to work with a consortium of states to develop standards is also available to state educational leadership.

Guidelines set by ESSA for state-developed academic standards is a step in the right direction. ESSA allows for states to decide how to best set goals and meet the needs of students. It is obvious from the widespread criticisms of Common Core that uniform education standards have not worked. As states continue to develop academic standards they must keep this in mind, understanding that every child does not learn and/or demonstrate knowledge in the same way.

Unlike widgets, children will never fit perfectly into standardized molds. They learn to walk at different ages. They learn to talk at different ages. And each child has a different set of interests and learning style. Students’ ability to demonstrate mastery in one area over another has a lot to do with their previous knowledge and exposure to out-of-the-classroom experiences.

As a mother to many children, I have observed that some of my children are good in math, while others are musically inclined. A select few demonstrate the ability to make fantastic meals out of simple ingredients, while others have a hard time boiling water. We must understand that every child is capable of achievement at high levels as long as we encourage their strengths. Whatever their gifts and talents, we need them all.

Dr. Elizabeth Primas is an educator, who spent more than 40 years working towards improving education for children of diverse ethnicities and backgrounds. Dr. Primas is the program manager for the NNPA’s Every Student Succeeds Act Public Awareness Campaign. Follow Dr. Primas on Twitter @elizabethprimas.

Did Sen. Ted Cruz Really Cast the Deciding Vote to Confirm Betsy DeVos?

Did Sen. Ted Cruz Really Cast the Deciding Vote to Confirm Betsy DeVos?

Education Week logoU.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, who is in a fierce race for the Senate, has hit his opponent, Republican Sen.Ted Cruz, for wanting to take money away from public schools, and for being the “deciding vote” in favor of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ confirmation.

“At a time when nearly half of the school teachers in Texas are working a second job just to make ends meet, Ted Cruz wants to take our public tax dollars out of their classrooms, turn them into vouchers,” O’Rourke says in a new campaign ad. “He was the deciding vote in putting Betsy DeVos in charge of our children’s public education. I want to pay teachers a living wage. I want to allow them to teach to the child, and not to the test. And when they retire, I want it to be a retirement of dignity. Those public educators have been there for us. Now it’s time to be there for them.”

It’s true that Cruz has been a big proponent of private school vouchers. And he was the author of a provision in the new tax law that allows families to use 529 college-savings plans for K-12 private schools.

Read full article click here

Md. Students Connect STEM, Football at Science Center

Md. Students Connect STEM, Football at Science Center

Osmon Best (center), a student at Thomas Johnson Middle School, shows instructor Richard Rubino how he plans to kick a paper football during STEM activities at the Howard B. Owens Science Center in Lanham, Maryland, on Oct. 10. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)Osmon Best carefully looked at the eight steps to make a paper football.

After successfully crafting the football, the 12-year-old Thomas Johnson Middle School student stood it on a makeshift Washington Redskins table and plucked it to the other side. Touchdown!

Best and 39 other students from Thomas Johnson and Oxon Hill Middle School participated in various STEM projects Wednesday at the Howard B. Owens Science Center.

“I made a touchdown, but missed a field goal,” Osmon said while smiling at the engineering station.

The sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade participants, decked out in blue “Pepco STEM All-Stars” T-shirts, were recognized for their academic achievements. The schools they attend are recognized as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) buildings.

The students from Thomas Johnson in Lanham would matriculate to DuVal High School, which has an aviation program. The Oxon Hill students would feed into Oxon Hill High School and can enroll in its science and technology program.

“This is intentional,” said Monica Goldson, interim CEO for the county schools system. “We hope at sometime during this three-year experience that something has grasped them to give them the courage they need to say, ‘I can do that, too.’”

During Wednesday’s event, students dispersed to four STEM stations, which all focused on a football concept.

At the mathematics station, Thuy Pham, 12, answered three questions based on a touchdown equaling seven points, a field goal equaling three points and a safety at two points.

One of the questions: If a quarterback completed 80 percent of the 35 passes he threw in the past three games, how many did he miss? The answer: seven.

Students from Oxon Hill and Thomas Johnson middle schools attempt to open a box with a few locks during STEM activities at the Howard B. Owens Science Center in Lanham, Maryland, on Oct. 10. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)
Students from Oxon Hill and Thomas Johnson middle schools attempt to open a box with a few locks during STEM activities at the Howard B. Owens Science Center in Lanham, Maryland, on Oct. 10. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

“This was fun. I want to be a math teacher,” said Thuy, a seventh-grade student at Thomas Johnson. “My parents used to be math teachers, so it’s kind of a generational thing.”

The climax of the day came when students worked together on a few combination locks to open a black box.

Goldson led a countdown to open the boxes, which were filled with clues to let the students know they will attend Sunday’s Washington Redskins game at FedEx Field in Landover against the Carolina Panthers. She said tickets will also be provided for the student’s parents, courtesy of the Redskins and Pepco.

“Oh, yeah!” one student yelled from across the room.

Marie Jenkins Jones Incentive Award Announces 2018 Scholarship Winners

Marie Jenkins Jones Incentive Award Announces 2018 Scholarship Winners

Marking 26 years of scholarship support for high school students, the Marie Jenkins Jones Incentive Award (MJJIA) announces five award recipients for 2018. Receiving scholarships of $500 each are Kayla Bennett, Ajani Brooks, Quinara Lawson, Zataya Rivenbark and Jamesia St. Louis, all recent graduates of Baptist Hill Middle High School. These outstanding young ladies have excelled in their high school studies and will be pursuing higher education this fall semester.

“My siblings and I are thrilled about this year’s scholarship recipients,” says Andrea C.J. Casey, MJJIA Board Chairperson and daughter of the late Mrs. Marie Jenkins Jones. “Because of matching gift donations and increased support from local businesses, former students, and the community, we were able to help even more students this year,” explains Casey.

MJJIA is a federally recognized 501(c)3 organization that helps deserving graduating seniors at Baptist Hill Middle High School advance their education at a vocational school, trade school, college or university of their choice.

Over the years, this scholarship has awarded tens of thousands of dollars to students assisting with books, school supplies or any other needs they may have toward their educational goals.

Mrs. Marie Jenkins Jones educated students of Charleston County for over forty years. She had a passion for teaching, love for her students and a devotion to the community. In 1992, she retired from Baptist Hill High School after decades of teaching in District 23. Her children established the scholarship to honor their mother’s legacy and to support students in furthering their education. “MJJIA wants to grant more scholarships in 2019, so we ask churches, organizations and the community to spread the word and encourage students to apply,” said Casey.

For more information about the MJJIA, to make a tax deductible donation, or to apply for the 2019 scholarship, please visit or contact the organization at

Minnesota Awards State’s First Alternative Teacher Preparation Grants

Minnesota Awards State’s First Alternative Teacher Preparation Grants

The Minnesota Office of Higher Education announced the five recipients of the State’s first Alternative Teacher Preparation Grant Program:

  • Southwest West Central Service Cooperative
  • Learning Disabilities Association of Minnesota
  • Lakes Country Service Cooperative
  • The New Teacher Project
  • Teach For America

According to Larry Pogemiller, the Commissioner of the Office of Higher Education, “The five chosen programs all demonstrate innovative and promising teacher preparation methods that can help Minnesota schools meet the challenge of finding the teachers they need.”

The grant program was created during the 2017 legislative session and allocated $750,000 for new alternative preparation programs that intended to do one or more of the following:

  • Fill Minnesota’s teacher shortage in licensure areas that the commissioner has identified.
  • Recruit, select, and train teachers who reflect the racial or ethnic diversity of the students in Minnesota.
  • Establish professional development programs for teachers who have obtained teaching licenses through alternative teacher preparation programs.

Importantly, only a “school district, charter school, or nonprofit” were eligible for the grant monies, meaning that institutions of higher education were not. Additionally, in order to be eligible, programs must also have been in operation for three continuous years in Minnesota or any other state, and are working to fill the state’s teacher shortage areas. Finally, the commissioner of Higher Education must give preference to programs that are based in Minnesota.

This post will provide a description of an alternative teacher preparation program, as well as a description of the programs for each of the grant recipients.

What is an Alternative Teacher Preparation Program?

In 2011, the Minnesota legislature passed a law that created the opportunity for alternative teacher preparation programs to be created. According to a 2016 Office of the Legislative Auditor report, school district, charter schools, and nonprofit organizations are eligible to establish an alternative program by partnering with a college or university that had an alternative teacher preparation program. Additionally, school districts and charter schools are also able to establish an alternative program by forming a partnership with certain nonprofit organizations, but only after they had consulted with a college or university with a teacher preparation program.

Read full article click here.

Mayor Barrett and Interim Superintendent Dr. Keith Posey Kick Off FAFSA Application

Mayor Barrett and Interim Superintendent Dr. Keith Posey Kick Off FAFSA Application

Concordia student, Dominick Snow Pierce, says filing the FAFSA helped him follow his dreams. (Photo by Ana Martinez-Ortiz)

As surprising as it may seem, applying to universities and trade schools may be the easiest step when it comes to continuing education. The second step, often viewed as the most daunting one, is filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid better known as FAFSA.

Over the years, FAFSA has gained a bad rep, although it’s working hard to change that. Recently, the FAFSA application process, which once began in April, changed to October. In other words, people can begin submitting their FAFSA applications as early as Oct. 1.

“FAFSA is the tool that opens the door to education,” said Mayor Tom Barrett.

According to Interim Milwaukee Public School Superintendent, Dr. Keith Posey, in 2016 the FAFSA completion rate in MPS hit 49.9 percent. This year’s goal is 80 percent. To help achieve this goal, all the high schools will be participating in the Wisconsin Goes to College Campaign, Posey said.

Additionally, to encourage more students to apply to college and FAFSA, 20 new college career centers were established in MPS high schools. M3, which consists of UW-Milwaukee, MATC and MPS, are continuing their joint efforts to ensure that every student continues their education.

Dr. Keith Posey, interim superintendent, says the college and FAFSA application processes are community efforts. (Photo by Ana Martinez-Ortiz)

Posey said FAFSA is a community effort. It’s not just the schools and the students, he said.
“[The students are] going to need your commitment and your support,” Posey said to parents.

Shannon Snow, the mother of Dominick Snow Pierce who graduated from MacDowell and now attends Concordia University, said the College Career Program helped Dominic with his applications.

As a mother, Snow said she always emphasized to her children that school was the top priority. MacDowell’s college advisors matched her commitment by following through with Dominick and making sure he filled out not only his college application, but FAFSA too. He’s eternally grateful his support system pushed him to do both, said Dominick.

“FAFSA is the best thing in life,” he said.

As a parent himself, Barrett said he knows how intimidating the FAFSA application can be. The name alone sounds scary he said. The first questions many people have is ‘What is FAFSA?’ followed by ‘How do I do FAFSA?’. Once the application process begins, it quickly becomes understandable, he said.

“We filled out the FAFSA,” he said. “[It was] one of the smartest economic decisions of my life.”

FAFSA helps the students and their parents establish a plan for their college years. Barrett called it a blueprint of do-ability that can help ease the discomfort of financial uncertainty. He said, as mayor, he speaks on behalf of the city. Milwaukee needs more kids to go to college, he said.

The job vacancies are there, but the applicants may not have the skills to even apply for the jobs, he said. Companies may decide to export the jobs if they can’t find employees in Milwaukee. This would be a huge blow to the city’s economic status. Wealth can be built in these neighborhoods, he said, and it can be built through education.

“The plus side is so huge, I think it’s worth it,” Barrett said.

Andrea Atkins, a single mother of seven MPS students, testified to how helpful FAFSA is. Of her children, four have attended college, so far, and three of them have graduated. Parents can support their child’s dream of attending college with FAFSA, she said.

“Our children are the future and we must invest in their education and success,” she said.

Educators Appreciation Day at Mystic Seaport Museum

Educators Appreciation Day at Mystic Seaport Museum


Don’t miss Educators Appreciation Day at Mystic Seaport Museum on October 20! CEA members and their families (up to four people total with teacher ID) will receive free Mystic Seaport Museum admission.

Don’t miss this special opportunity to explore the museum and learn more about the seaport’s educational programs and classroom connections. Education Department staff will be on hand to discuss program offerings and answer questions. In addition to the museum’s regular activities, there will be a special agenda of activities just for educators and their families.

Read full article click here