In typical business-as-usual fashion, Chicago Public Schools announced it will send report cards home next week as if this was a normal school year. But as Chicago grapples with the COVID-19 crisis—and the gross inequities that make it even more dire for working families and low-income Black and Latinx communities—this school year is far from normal.
The customary way of grading is inappropriate given remote learning during a global health pandemic. We need change.
The Chicago Teachers Union is calling for a two-week delay on student grading, then going to pass/no pass (no fail) with individual opt-in for letter grades. The opt-in is for students who require a grade for college admissions.
There is no reason for any student to receive a failing grade right now.
In a normal school year, Chicago’s public school educators this week would be submitting grades, preparing report cards and readying for parent-teacher conferences. Instead, they are navigating Google classrooms, hosting video meetings and online lessons, and trying to connect with students by whatever means they can.
Our students face new challenges as well. Many are living with severe emotional and even physical stress due to the COVID-19 crisis. Poor Black and Latinx students face increased hardship and trauma as their families struggle with unemployment, inadequate health care and food insecurity.
It’s nice to see City Hall and CPS take a victory lap today for providing Internet access and devices for our nearly 16,000 homeless students. They also need homes.
And remember, our members went on an 11-day strike last fall and were ridiculed by the mayor for taking a stand for these families. We’re glad the city is finally catching up to its educators, but let’s be clear, the irony of grading these students when they’ve gone without for weeks isn’t lost on us. Or anyone.
There’s nothing normal about the situation we find ourselves in today. As remote learning took off this week, CPS reported that a third of its students still had no access to a computer, and thousands more lack access to the Internet. What will grades mean for those students? How do teachers submit grades when students were unable to complete the quarter? How can such an uneven playing field produce fairness and justice for minority students?
It’s wrong to assign letter grades based on just six weeks of assessed classroom instruction, in the midst of one of the worst public health crises our country has seen. To assign letter grades when thousands of students have been unable to do the assigned work—through no fault of their own—is just plain cruel.
Elementary school districts are not the only ones struggling with the grading dilemma. Colleges and universities across the country are dumping their grading systems and moving to pass/fail or credit/no credit assessments for the end of the school year. CPS should do the same, with the caveat that no student should fail because they were unable to complete online work.
Teachers, parents and students are under enormous stress right now, and juggling multiple roles. Teachers are instructing their classrooms and managing their own children’s online learning. Parents are working from home and assisting with their children’s lessons. And many of our students are caring for siblings or elderly relatives while their parents work.
This is a time for support—not a time for failure.