Green Lake School is examining ways to provide a more equitable education to ensure students, regardless of income-level, receive an equal opportunity to succeed. This comes as the COVID-19 pandemic has shown how disadvantaged students can get left behind.
The school is looking at potentially tweaking its grading scale for next school year and re-evaluating policies for late work.
These conversations began in November of this school year, and soon after staff began reading the book “Grading for Equity” as part of their professional development training, Secondary Principal Cathy Moore said during a presentation to the School Board Wednesday.
“As educators, we’re always trying to get better every year, so we set goals for ourselves,” Moore said. “Our staff agreed that grading is something we need to be doing equitably.”
She noted inequity in education became “glaring” when schools had to pivot to virtual learning last march in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the pivot to online education, Moore said some families struggled to find reliable internet access and technology, while children with special needs saw their grades fall significantly.
“Our less privileged students really struggled,” the secondary principal said. “As educators, we’re tasked with trying to somehow level that playing field as much as we can.”
Moore noted staff believed examining grading would be an effective way to address equity gaps in Green Lake School.
Currently, a 93% or above is an “A,” 86% to 92% is a “B,” 78% to 85% is a “C,” 70% to 77% is a “D” and 69% or below is an “F,” according to the school handbook for middle and high school students.
“We’re investigating a lot of really big ideas [and] we’re looking critically at what we do and how we do it,” Moore said. “We ask ourselves questions like, 'Is the homework that we're sending home really fair and equitable to all students? What do we do with students who don't have a place at home to do their homework? Or maybe don't have the parental support the other kids have?'”
Moore noted one of the concepts teachers are looking at is unlimited retakes, which would allow students to do an assignment as many times as it takes to achieve a learning goal.
She added that many teachers have worked in other school districts that have allowed unlimited retakes.
According to Moore, staff also is taking a look at implicit bias, which forces teachers to re-evaluate how they perceive students.
Even before the current discussion surrounding equity in school, Superintendent Mary Allen said the district began looking at its grading procedures last year by talking to International Baccalaureate (IB) program coordinators and looking at how other IB schools handle grading.
“There are a lot of different systems that are in the mix right now, but I think that the main focus is we want to do what is best for our kids,” Allen said. “What our teachers want is to be able to assess our kids to the best of their ability to communicate to their parents as to what their kids can do.”
Even so, School Board Clerk Meade Grim believes Green Lake has done a good job grading students based on their achievement level.
“I don't think that students have been slighted or disadvantaged with their secondary education choices; I think that they've actually been advantaged,” Grim said. “I will be looking strictly at the team of educators and the district staff on this recommendation and whatever their recommendation is, I think the board will bring it in and consider it.”
Likewise, School Board Vice President Andy Gryske believes Green Lake’s grading system gives students an advantage in college.
“They understood how to write a paper, they understood how to study [and] they knew what it was going to take to be successful,” Gryske said. “[For] the ones that I have continued to stay in touch with, I think our IB program and grading scale has helped them quite a bit as they've moved on.”
At the same time, Moore noted teachers and staff are taking into consideration how changing the grading system could impact students in terms of preparing them for college as teachers want students to be as prepared as possible.
Allen added that grading will remain a standing item on the agenda through the end of the school year to allow teachers to finish investigating.