Last week the LA Times reported that, facing soaring rates of D’s and F’s, more schools are simply doing away with grades entirely. Instead, teachers are encouraged to give students little to no homework, move deadlines, and have fewer outcome-driven measurements of achievement.
What’s the rationale behind the move?
“By continuing to use century-old grading practices,” wrote L.A. Unified’s chief academic administrator, “we inadvertently perpetuate achievement and opportunity gaps, rewarding our most privileged students and punishing those who are not.” In other words, standardized grades are racist.
But isn’t suggesting that poor or minority kids can’t get good grades itself a racist belief?
A major reason for merit-based grading is that if we don’t evaluate students based on their achievements, we’ll evaluate them on something else; in this case, an administrator’s preconceived ideas about their ability to succeed, based entirely on ethnicity and socioeconomic status.
Even more, by doing away with grades, educators keep students from the potential to succeed, no matter how hard they work. It’s a different kind of tyranny, but no less destructive: the tyranny of low expectations.