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Va. teachers push back on equity proposal to abolish some grades, late homework penalties

Wakefield High School (7News)
Wakefield High School (7News)
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Based on feedback from the Arlington School Board, the Arlington Public Schools system is focusing on what they call more equitable grading practices.

The preliminary proposal calls for

  • No late penalties for homework – because the proposal says it leads to inaccurate grades as it reflects on student’s behavior and not student achievement
  • No extra credit – as the proposal says extra credit leads to biased grades and penalizes students with fewer resources
  • Unlimited redoes and retakes on assignments
  • No grading for homework as the proposal says mistakes are vital to learning and students are less likely to take risks when they fear they will be graded down for making a mistakes

REPORT: Black, Latinx students 'disproportionately' impacted by pandemic learning loss

The goal of the proposal is to implement more equitable grading practices.

“There’s no labeling of students or ranking of students,” said Dr. Erin Russo, the Principal of Discovery Elementary, during a meeting discussing the proposal. “It’s the ownership of what do I need to work on and where am I?"

Teachers from Wakefield High School sent a letter to the Arlington County Superintendent that said the proposal is anything but equitable and would impact the neediest of students as they prepare for the future.

Dear Arlington School Board members and Dr. Duran:

As educators with decades of experience in APS, we are extremely concerned with several changes proposed in the new grading and homework policy. We believe that these changes will impact student learning and socio-emotional development and growth in a negative way. The changes, if implemented, will also result in the decline of high expectations and rigor in the classroom across all APS high schools. We agree that homework, summer assignments, summative as well as formative assessments need to be meaningful, engaging, and be clearly communicated/explained to students and their families; however, if proposed changes are implemented, the accountability “piece” of the learning process will exist in theory only.

In addition to learning how to construct an effective argument in writing, solve math equations, or properly conduct science experiments, as students matriculate through high school, they also learn how to develop organizational, time and stress management skills and grow as responsible, civically engaged, and considerate young adults. To achieve these ends, students should be held accountable for completing their work in a timely manner and meeting deadlines that were reasonably established by their teachers. We pride ourselves on providing useful constructive criticism for our students, analyzing and reflecting on major content and skill-based assignments and providing them with exemplary work from their classmates. We do not see how this practice can continue if the “timeliness of the completion” is not considered in the submission and grading process. Of course, practical/pragmatic elements come into play here as well:

1.If deadlines are removed (or, perhaps more accurately, able to be extended throughout the marking period/semester/school year), the potential certainly exists for a nightmare evaluating scenario for teachers, as submissions are delayed to suit students’ needs (and whims). This process will be compounded if, as stipulated in this proposal, such “remediations” can only be catalyzed via a “formal” two-way exchange between teacher and student.

2.More often than not, content and concepts lead to new content and concepts -- in other words, the material we access in one week organically fosters the material we will access the following week. If students are able to manufacture their own sequence of submissions, it seems logical that doing so would hamper “mastery” moving forward.

We agree with the idea that formative assessments must not count as much as summative assessments. However, we completely disagree with the proposal that none of the formative work should be counted towards a student’s achievement/ grade. It is very likely that students who do not complete or do a poor job with formative assessments will not do well on summative assessments either. So, again, that accountability element should remain to encourage students to stay focused and participate in the learning process consistently. Furthermore, students who exhibit reduced motivation to complete/submit formative work seem hardly likely to increase said motivation with the removal of grades; in fact, students often are able to augment less-than-exemplary scores on summative assessments with successful completion of formative work. Anecdotally, the Spring 2020 virtual learning experiment during the pandemic taught most of us that students do not, will not, complete work if it’s not for a grade.

Moreover, students come to school with various levels of motivation, abilities, background knowledge and work ethic. We, as professionals, need to be aware of these differences and work to facilitate learning and academic growth in each and every one of our students. When deadlines are clearly communicated with students, we expect them to honor those deadlines, and, if they are unable to do so, we expect them to communicate that with us in a timely fashion, so that necessary adjustments can be made based on individual circumstances. However, what message do these proposed policies send to students if they do not complete their work in a timely manner and still get 50% for their missing work? What message do these policies send to a student who met deadlines and received a lower grade than a student who ignored the deadline entirely?

How do we reconcile these policy changes with our efforts to prepare students for the challenges of their post-secondary school lives--challenges which certainly involve deadlines as well as successful completion of assigned tasks? In reality, students use very little of the factual information that they acquire in high school in their daily lives. However, the habits of mind (acquiring and synthesizing information) and work habits (timely attendance, work completion, positive participation in group activities) make for successful careers.

Finally, given the emphasis on equity in today’s education systems, we believe that some of the proposed changes will actually have a detrimental impact towards achieving this goal. Families that have means could still provide challenging and engaging academic experiences for their children and will continue to do so, especially if their child(ren) are not experiencing expected rigor in the classroom. More specifically, those families can afford to hire tutors and sign-up their child(ren) to attend enrichment activities and camps in hopes of preparing them for the college application/admission process. Students who come from families which are not as “savvy” or “aware,” will be subject to further disadvantage because they will not be held accountable for not completing their homework assignments and/or formative assessments according to the deadlines set by their teachers: such results are anything but equitable--conversely, they offer our most needy students reduced probability of preparing for and realizing post-secondary opportunities.

If the discussed changes are implemented, instead of holding students to high academic and personal standards, we are providing them with a variety of excuses and/or enabling them to “game the system,” prompting them to expect the least of themselves in terms of effort, results, and responsibility. At Wakefield, in particular, we believe these proposed changes fly directly in the face of the very pillars upon which our Mission Statement sits.


[Wakefield High School Teachers]

“We want the best for our students and for all of our students,” said John Stewart, a teacher at Wakefield High School. Stewart did not sign the letter, but he said he shares his colleagues' concerns.

Stewart, who has three children who attend Wakefield High School, says grading homework assignments is vital.

“It gives teachers a sense of what students learned before progressing to the next unit or the next topic,” he said. “The other reason is to give parents a sense of where their child is and how they’re performing. And having no deadlines, and having no expectations of turning things in a timely matter or turning things in at all I think is a disservice and it might set them up for some hard times ahead when they are off in college or off in the workplace where there are deadlines.”

Those aren’t the only concerns some teachers have.

“You could have a student who worked and worked and worked and worked and put in tons of effort and still did poorly on tests,” added Stewart. “That student could end up with the same average as a student who pretty much sailed through the quarter, didn’t put much effort in, didn’t turn in assignments and did fairly well on a final test. Those same students could end up with the same grade.”

“If the intended policy hopes to address inequities, I believe you will find that at Wakefield and all of my colleagues are completely on board with any movement that would address inequities in the system,” Stewart told 7News. “We want the best for our students and for all of our students. But I do wonder why we would start at this point knowing that other districts in other communities have tried these types of policies before and already have begun to move towards a more moderated system. Why would we go to where everyone was five years ago?”

An APS spokesperson said the district is in the early stages of revising the grading and homework policies and policy implementation procedures (PIPs).

“This work is being done as part of the School Board’s work to update all policies and PIPs,” said an Arlington Public Schools spokesperson. “As of right now, we are having preliminary conversations with instructional staff as to what makes sense in policy and what makes sense in practice at schools. There are two phases of the process before the School Board is scheduled to act on any recommendations in May. As part of Phase1, we provided some ideas for staff to look at as a starting point and asked all Instructional Lead Teachers to gather feedback from school-based staff on the first working drafts. This is the first of several opportunities for all teachers to provide feedback. Selected staff from each building will also participate directly in the revision process in Phase 2.”

Here is a link to the presentation shared at the Board work session and a link to the video of the work session for the public to review.

The full chronology of the revision process is outlined below.

Chronology of Grading and Homework Policy Revision:


September 2021 - January 2022

  • Close to100 elementary and secondary administrators and instructional staff participated in a book study of Grading for Equity by Joe Feldman, which allowed for a deep dive into equitable and inequitable grading practices, the consequences of these practices and consideration of how we might systemically change these practices moving forward.

October 2021

Work Session on “Homework and Communication of Student Progress” on 10/19 – staff gained direction from School Board

Presentation Slides

Work Session Recording [] - choose 10/19/21 video from the Livestream list of recordings

November 2021

  • Academics and Student Support staff incorporated direction from Board into first policy & PIPs working drafts

December 2021-early January 2022

  • Working drafts shared with Instructional Lead Teachers who represent their schools to collect feedback on first working drafts from school-based staff
  • Mid-December - share same draft with Policy Review Team (PRT)
  • January convene Academics and Student Support staff working group to incorporate feedback from schools and PRT


Mid Jan-Feb 2022

  • Principals identify school reps to be part of Phase 2 - further engagement by school-based staff in review and revision process of drafted policy and PIPs
  • Convene school-based and Academics and Student Support staff working group to incorporate next set of feedback received
  • Additional stakeholder groups (Teachers Council on Instruction, Advisory Council on Teaching and Learning - composed of parents and community, Student Advisory board, etc.) will provide feedback on drafts

March 2022

  • Drafted policies will be posted on Engage webpage for public comment for one month
  • Convene school-based and Academics and Student Support staff working group to incorporate next set of feedback received
  • Provide policy and PIP drafts to PRT, Superintendent/Cabinet, and Board Policy Subcommittee for review

April 2022

Revisions of policies and PIPs go to the School Board for information

May 2022

  • Revisions of policies and PIPs go to the School Board for action
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June - Aug 2022

  • Provide information to school staff regarding change in policy and implementation procedures for implementation in SY23"
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