- Several districts across the country are attempting to make grading policies more equitable by allowing students to retake exams, having teachers deemphasize late homework, and updating families more regularly on their child's academic progress.
- These efforts put more emphasis on students’ mastery of course content, as well as ensure fairness and consistency in grading practices, according to the districts making or considering changes.
- However, some educators worry that these equitable grading practices add more strain on teachers and lead to grade inflation, as well as other unintended consequences.
School systems in several localities nationwide are considering or have recently implemented grading policies that aim to clarify expectations, remove biases and create grading consistency across schools.
For the past two-and-a-half years, Boston Public Schools has been developing a proposed policy that would provide students with high-quality and meaningful feedback about their academic performance. Specifically, the district's plan puts emphasis on summative assignments that demonstrate students' mastery of a lesson. It would put less emphasis on behaviors unrelated to academics, according to a proposal presentation from February.
The proposal also seeks to use grading scales that are mathematically accurate, such as 0-4 or 50-100% in order to avoid disproportionately penalizing students for low performance. The thinking behind recalibrating grading scales is that when students receive a zero on an assignment — depending on how that assignment is weighted among other tasks — it can be difficult for them to recover and earn a passing mark.
In an update to its grading policy for this school year, Virginia's Fairfax County Public Schools said teachers may now issue zeros for assignments that have not been submitted. For students who make an effort to finish the work, the minimum mark will be 50%. Students also have two weeks past the due date to submit major assignments, which balances accountability with flexibility, the district said in an Aug. 23 statement.
Meanwhile, Nevada's Clark County School District overhauled its grading system in the 2021-22 school year by implementing a grading scale that uses a 50% as the minimum grade in an effort to be more equitable. In July, however, the district announced that it was modifying the grading scale for secondary students based on teacher feedback. The grading scale will now be applied for quarterly grades and not at the individual assignment level.
Nationally, research has found that average GPAs have increased over the past few decades. A 2022 report by ACT, the nonprofit that administers the college admissions exam, found that high school GPAs increased 0.19 grade points on average, from 3.17 in 2010 to 3.36 in 2021.
The same year, the National Assessment of Educational Progress found that high school graduates earned an average 3.11 GPA in 2019, up from 3.00 in 2009 and 2.68 in 1990.
Some educators, researchers and politicians are raising concerns about grade inflation. Arizona State Superintendent Tom Horne, in a May statement, urged districts to abolish equitable grading practices.
“In education today, we have a war between excellence and mediocrity. So-called ‘equitable’, ‘compassionate’, or ‘standards-based’ grading promotes mediocrity," Horne said. "If we are to increase learning and show it in increased test scores, students must do homework and be graded objectively."