Race-based grading in this Chicago-area school? News report says yes, school says no

A Chicago-area high school is being accused of planning to no longer penalize students’ grades for missed assignments and classes, or for bad behavior, in order to eliminate what it says are racial inequities in grading. A school spokesperson denies the allegations. 

West Cook News says the alleged grading changes are part of a commitment by Oak Park and River Forest High School in Oak Park, Illinois, to, as the school puts it, “consistently integrate equitable assessment and grading practices into all academic and elective courses” by the fall of 2023. 

A school spokesperson maintains the West Cook News article “contains a variety of misleading and inaccurate statements,” and that “OPRFHS does not, nor has it ever had a plan to, grade any students differently based on race.” 

“No grading changes have been presented or recommended, let alone approved,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to The Lion. Rather, “the report was an update on the (Grading and Assessment Committee’s) research so far.” 

West Cook News quotes the school’s assistant superintendent for student learning, Laurie Fiorenza, as having written last August, “We must recognize [that] the unique challenges faced during the pandemic intensify the need for a systemic approach to confronting the racial and socioeconomic discrepancies often experienced by our underrepresented student population.” 

The newspaper reported last fall that one of the school’s history teachers had a grading scale in which students would have to score just 19% or below to get an F. 

West Cook News quotes the Associated Press as reporting that schools across the nation are “experimenting with getting rid of zero-to-100 point scales and other strategies to keep missed assignments from dramatically bringing down overall grades.” The AP story writes of a California teacher having “stopped giving zeros and deducting points for late work. He also gives unlimited retakes for quizzes and tests.” 

West Cook News also quotes Margaret Sullivan of EAB (formerly the Education Advisory Board), who writes of “training teachers to remove the non-academic factors from their grading practices.” As examples of non-academic factors, she lists “student behavior or whether a student showed up to virtual class.” 

Asked specifically whether dropping grading penalties for missed assignments and classes and misbehavior was ever mentioned by the OPRFHS Grading and Assessment Committee or anyone else at the school, the spokesperson simply pointed The Lion to a May 26 school board meeting agenda, which read: 

“Many OPRFHS teachers are successfully exploring and implementing more equitable grading practices such as utilizing aspects of competency-based grading, eliminating zeros from the grade book, and encouraging and rewarding growth over time.” 

“As the OPRFHS Grading and Assessment Committee continues its work,” the spokesperson said, “the district is committed to keeping the community updated to any changes. We encourage the community to seek information directly from the district or other reliable news sources rather than internet sources that continue to share inaccurate information.” 

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