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Illinois high school didn’t adopt ‘race-based’ grading system

June 3, 2022 GMT

CLAIM: An Illinois high school will implement a “race-based grading system” for the next school year.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The school has adopted no such policy and said in a statement that it has no plans to do so. The school’s board gave a presentation on May 26 mentioning “equitable grading” practices, which value whether a student has mastered academic content. Some districts have sought such alternative approaches to eliminate bias from grading systems.

THE FACTS: A widely shared story online is falsely claiming that the school — Oak Park and River Forest High School, outside of Chicago — “will require teachers next school year to adjust their classroom grading scales to account for the skin color or ethnicity of its students.”

“OPRF to implement race-based grading system in 2022-23 school year,” reads the widely shared headline on the website West Cook News. The website is just one part of a sprawling network of such sites that present themselves as local news organizations in states such as Illinois and Michigan. Conservative political activists fund and operate the sites.

But the erroneous story cited no actual policy changes, and the school said in a statement that the claim is false. “OPRFHS does not, nor has it ever had a plan to, grade any students differently based on race,” the statement said.

The article instead mischaracterized a May 26 school Board of Education meeting, at which a committee focused on grading and assessment presented an initial report. The report noted at one point that “traditional grading practices perpetuate inequities and intensify the opportunity gap.”

At “no time were any statements made recommending that OPRF implement a race-based grading approach,” the school’s statement continued.

Many schools have put into place or begun exploring “equitable grading,” arguing that traditional grading systems, with their penalties for late homework and missed assignments, can disproportionately hurt students with fewer advantages at home. Schools across the country have introduced elements of equitable grading like getting rid of traditional zero-to-100 point scales, The Associated Press reported.

But the concept doesn’t propose adjusting students’ grades based on their race.

Joe Feldman, a leading advocate for equitable grading and former teacher and administrator, called that claim “absurd.”

“It is so far afield from what schools are doing to improve their grading to be more equitable,” he said in an interview.

Feldman said the central idea is to remove from grading non-academic behaviors and activities that don’t necessarily reflect how much a student has learned. Extra credit assignments that require a student to purchase something, for example, might necessitate resources not accessible to all students.

“All of these ways of grading are really to try and make it so grades reflect only a student’s level of understanding of the course content and not non-academic criteria or life circumstances or resources,” Feldman said. Equitable grading “makes every grade for every student more accurate and fair.”

Susan M. Brookhart, professor emerita at Duquesne University’s School of Education, told the AP in an email that there is “no such thing as ‘race-based grading,’” adding that it’s an “offensive and misleading moniker.”

“The term ‘grading for equity’ emphasizes the fact that putting both learning and behavior into one grade not only muddies the meaning of grades, but disproportionately affects certain students, historically including students of color but also students in poverty or really any student who needs clear information about their learning and doesn’t get it,” Brookhart said.

During the school board presentation cited by West Cook News, it was noted that some teachers have incorporated “more equitable grading practices,” like dropping zeros from gradebooks.

A school spokesperson, Karin Sullivan, told the AP in an email that those practices are not being implemented school-wide and that race “is not a factor; if these practices are used, they apply to all students, regardless of race.”

West Cook News did not respond to a request for comment.


Associated Press writer Amanda Seitz contributed to this report.


This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.