Step 4 A: Grading and Social Justice

 

South L.A. student finds a different world at Cal – LA Times

Read this article from The LA Times.  Take notes to collect textual evidence to support your response to:

What issues around traditional K-12 grading practices does this article raise?

In the comment section below, post your response to the above question including supporting textual evidence.

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1,077 thoughts on “Step 4 A: Grading and Social Justice

  1. Shane Riddle says:

    This article reinforces a belief I’ve seen grow stronger as I’ve taught longer: grades are very subjective, and students in lower-performing schools often have inflated grades. Even within a school, students are often well aware of which teachers are easier to get a higher grade from. Keshawn was probably well-behaved and organized at school, and that lead to inflated grades. Students like him would benefit from a system based on standards with opportunities for growth.

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  2. Joshara Fletcher says:

    Keyshawn’s grades are not equivalent to his preparedness for college. I think his grades represent his work ethic and not his mastery of the standards. We hope that if a student receives high grades that those grades will reflect a student’s understanding and ability to perform certain tasks. Sometimes when we grade student based on effort, we can be helping them in the short run but damaging them in the long run. Kashawn felt that if he applied the same kind of skills, “He would work harder, be better organized,” he would be able to do better. I think Kashawn’s problem is deeper than that. Despite his excellent grades in high school his teachers did not emphasize the levels of skill mastery that he need to be successful in college.

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  3. N Strickland says:

    Clearly what is evident here is non-standard grading. I’ve seen many examples of this where a student will come into my class struggling with a history of low SBACC scores, low DIBELS scores from elementary, and having had an A in 6th or 7th grade English. We need to be on the same page with our grading and expectations of our students. If Kashawn had higher expectations to get an A in high school, I know he would have worked harder to achieve that level of rigor, and most likely would have learned a lot on the way. Lowering the bar for more students to succeed did not help this child, but I can’t help but wonder that if the bar wasn’t lowered how many students would have failed and been discouraged. Is there a solution?

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  4. Irene Maliwan says:

    I think that Keyshawn’s experience was very similar to mine. I studied hard in high school and graduated at the top of my class. By the end of Freshman year at UCLA I had barely a 2.5 GPA. I had no grasp of what was needed to pass my classes. Many of the other people in my classes seemed to know and understand the course so much more. It was there that I realized that many of the students in my classes came in with a different set of skills and background than me. Many came from schools that were located in different neighborhoods than I was from and that the standard for what a 4.0 student at their high school was different than my own. I don’t think I would have been a 4.0 student at their high school.
    I think that this article highlights the disparity in grading practices in different neighborhoods, possibly even different classes within the same school. I believe that the bar is set differently depending on the demographics of the school. In the case of Keyshawn, his school might of had different criteria for giving an A in an Honors class than say a high school in Beverly Hills. On the other hand, if Keyshawn was the top 5% of his class, why shouldn’t he earn an A? If he worked hard and had “better” essays than his classmates, doesn’t that mean that he is at the “top” of his class? Yes, but what criteria other than being better than the rest is the teacher using? The disparity is there, the question is how do we address it?

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  5. K. Navarrete says:

    There is an inconsistency of mastery of standards between teachers, schools, and educational institutions. Students may excel in different schools, yet not have the skills needed to be successful in post-secondary education. Exposure to culture, reading, and our parent’s educational background may influence our own success.

    “He could not believe that he needed more skills”

    “The paper would be full of words he thought were academic, writing the way he thought a college student should write, using big words he didn’t have command of.”

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  6. Poly Peralta says:

    The questions are what were the grading systems used and what were the class levels for this student. We know that class levels can determine one’s overall GPA(AP, Honors vs. Regular). The grading system could be fine, but the rigor of the class is now the problem. However, if the grading system was awarding participation and not on mastering the content and skills. Then the problem is the grading is to subjective.

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  7. Azniv Shahmelikian says:

    Main issues with traditional grading was that teachers give points for their effort and participation instead of their dept of knowledge. we continuously saw Kashawn strugle in Berkeley. If us teacher concentrate on teaching the subject matter in its dept and not give grades for items that have nothing to do with the subject.

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  8. Agata Bronakowska says:

    The quotes that affected me were ” He had barely passed an introductory science course. In College Writing 1A, his essays — pockmarked with misplaced words and odd phrases — were so weak that he would have to take the class again.
    He had never felt this kind of failure, nor felt this insecure. The second term was just
    days away and he had a 1.7 GPA. If he didn’t improve his grades by school year’s end,
    he would flunk out.”,and “I’ve learned the hard way that academics are not who you are,” Kashawn said as he
    walked through Sproul Plaza, heading back to the dorm one day in May. “They are
    something you need to learn to get to the next level of life, but they can’t define me.
    My grades at Cal are not Kashawn Campbell.”

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  9. Paytsar Sasunyan says:

    This article makes it clear that all A’s are not created equal. Many teachers lower their standards and make achieving a passing grade easier because students are not prepared to handle the actual course requirements. I don’t think that switching from a percentage grading to mastery grading will resolve the problem that students like Kashawn Campbell face — that a big part of student’s academic success is the family’s socio-economic standing.

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  10. F. Montes says:

    What issues around traditional K-12 grading practices does this article raise?

    In the comment section below, post your response to the above question including supporting textual evidence.

    There are many issues that this article brings up, but to focus on the grading practices component, what this article raises is that students from inner-cities may be compared to their fellow peers in high school rather than skills and knowledge.

    “It took awhile for him to understand there was a problem,” Delp said. This quote clearly shows that the student was not given a clear understanding of his skills and where he was at, but rather, ‘complete the work in any fashion and you’ll get an A’. There are many concerns that go well beyond grading; how do we make sure all students, inner-city students in particular, are able to be given chances in colleges if they are not given the same opportunities (i.e., trips with families, etc.) that give them the additional life experiences?

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  11. Ryan Pool says:

    The articles notion that students can receive a high grade point average while having inadequate content knowledge is disconcerting. How is it that the standards can be interpreted so differently or that teachers are willing to lower their expectations and skew grading practice. There is a larger systemic issue that needs to be addressed.

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  12. After reading both the article and the comment train I have mixed feelings. I mean Kashawn had to believe he could make it at Berkeley or he would not have tried, got in and hung in. Therefore the benefit of rewarding students who excel in their own community is important but the traditional system does not reward the constant struggle to bring academic performances to the mastery level. I read that ultimately Kashawn had to learn that his best still was not meeting the standards of others coming from other schools. The article talks about the difference between Spencer, his buddy, and Keshawn in terms of how parenting and exposure to the arts, museums, and higher level education levels in parents does matter in terms of college and career readiness. I was trained to be a social activist in my credential program and think critically about removing obstacles or barriers for all students. If mastery grading can help some of my students not only get in college but persist through the reality of what that entails then I’m all for it.

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  13. Miriam Gonzalez says:

    Traditional K-12 grading practices can contribute to a false academic confidence to students and also parents. The expectations and subjectivity can change from school to school. The academic rigor that one teacher can apply to his classes might not be reflected on the grades or knowledge that a student possess. For example, a math teacher takes more time making sure that her/his students learn concepts that will help them to succeed in college but it does not complete every chapter of the textbook, while another teacher makes sure that all the material is cover however his/her students have not master many concepts, both groups of students will receive grades from A to F, but their knowledge it can be significantly different.

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  14. Poly Gabriela says:

    Grades in high school are subjunctive.It was a tough article but a reality for some of our students. These are the challenges that students will face if they are not graded consistently and if the grade does not reflect mastery.

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  15. I was really surprised at how many times I have heard about this exact same thing happening to some of our students. Its always disheartening as an educator to see your students after they have attended college only to hear that they had to drop out or re mediate. Students will often say to me that they felt somehow “cheated” after their first year of college.

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  16. Alexandra Hohmann says:

    This article was a gut punch. This is the reality many of our students face: they have done everything to overcome adversity, and end up continuing to struggle because, in college, many of the supports they once had are taken away. It makes me think critically about the subjective vs. objective nature of traditional grading. Did Kashawn’s high school teachers grade him subjectively, rewarding his effort and determination, more than skill or proficiency?

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  17. Matthew Lee says:

    In my opinion, the issue with traditional grading that this article raises is again about how a final grade is determined, but at least seems to be offering a small solution to this problem. Kashawn’s writing class grade seems to only be determined by his grades on 2 writing assignments and nothing else. No matter how much work he puts in to actually learn the content of the class, his grade is only affected by the score he gets on both assignments. Although he was a very high-achieving student in high school, he was only being compared to the students in his same school from similar backgrounds to him. College is a place that allows the brightest minds from around the world to come together to learn, so students are now being compared on a global scale and to the expectations of higher institutions. Because Kashawn had poor writing skills, he was not able to score well on his writing assignments and was not able to pass the class. However, at least he was offered a second chance to improve his grade, acknowledging that a student’s level of understanding is a process and cannot be determined by a single attempt at an assignment.

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  18. Hugo Sandoval says:

    “But as the semester got going, he began to stumble.” Students struggle or they are not ready for college or university because they might not be challenged enough. It is a difficult task but we must grade students based on their actual understanding of the assignments and standard rather than on the effort. There might be occasions where the teacher might want to consider the issue of the student for a particular grade but should not be the grade itself for the effort because that is going to jeopardize the student as they go to upper grades.

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  19. Dorothy Cox says:

    Many times the grades the students receive in school are not in tune with the status of the
    student’s abilities to be competitive in college. Grading for students in high school is very subjective to the expectations of the individual teachers and the standards they set forth.

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  20. Nicole Niederdeppe says:

    If our mission as a district is not only 100% graduation, but preparing students to be college and career ready, then we really cannot accept that students are graduating top of their high school classes only to be completely unprepared for the demands of the prestigious colleges they are accepted to. By inflating grades, or establishing low expectations or “participation” grades, we are shortchanging the futures of some of our brightest and most driven students. Our low expectations and grade inflation can have potentially catastrophic consequences for some of our most at-risk students, and thus we fail at our mission.

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  21. Manuel Velazquez says:

    “By the end of his senior year, Kashawn’s 4.06 grade point average was second best in the senior class.” This is the model student on paper. “But as the semester got going, he began to stumble. The first essay for the writing class that accounted for half of his course load was so bad his teacher gave him a “No Pass.” Same for the second essay.” This is where the dispersion between the student from a privileged background and a student from an inner-city upbringing shows.

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  22. Kenneth Zubiate says:

    This was a tough article to read because you could really see how much this young man wanted to succeed and how much he had to go through emotionally just to get ahead. This kid had every type of motivation, but when he was not provided with the skills or at least a clear picture on how to further develop them, the poor kid was left with a huge bill and a lot of stress. I love the idea of using grades to keep kids motivated. I hate seeing a kid work hard only to receive a C or even D because he just wasn’t getting the material. But I would hate for any of my student’s feel he or she is college ready, and I did not give them the proper perspective on their achievements and needs. Motivation is needed, but so are the skills that can be neglected if you are too invested in work production and not enough on mastery.

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  23. Meghan Truax says:

    “By the end of his senior year, Kashawn’s 4.06 grade point average was second best in the senior class.” I think the issue could stem from the tendency of 100 point grading scales to compare students to each other rather than just to their mastery of the content. While Kashawn may have excelled past his peers in his high school, it was clear that compared to the other students at Berkely he had not gained enough skills to immediately succeed.

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  24. shekiba says:

    I find it a tragedy that Keshawn had to experience his false sense of accomplishments. I don’t blame the teachers and administration entirely either. I do hold the entire education institution that doesn’t understand the challenges that schools go through and that more funds are needed to fund positions, fieldtrips, etc. to increase student interest in learning and makes them curious about learning. Schools are in need of funding and time for teachers to plan, develop, and seek out their ideas in a collaborative manner.

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  25. Bryan Ramos says:

    Quotes from the Article:
    “By the end of his senior year, Kashawn’s 4.06 grade point average was second best in the senior class.”
    “But as the semester got going, he began to stumble. The first essay for the writing class that accounted for half of his course load was so bad his teacher gave him a “No Pass.” Same for the second essay.”
    What issues around traditional K-12 grading practices does this article raise?
    The issues that traditional grading that the article raises is that traditional grading does not prepare students for college. In fact, his high school gpa could have been high because the teachers may have given him an A for effort rather than actually seeing if he mastered his high school subjects. By the time he was in College and had to write essays for college it was not good.

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  26. natalie p says:

    I think his story truly reinforces that students are not graded consistently throughout our education system. It is unfortunate that Kashawn was unprepared for college even though he graduated high school with such great honors. It makes me sad to know that this story is happening to more and more students. As teachers we need to be conscious and prepare our students for the future higher level of rigor, not just give out A’s to students when they are not understanding content. By following a mastery based grading system our students would clearly know when they comprehend the standards.

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  27. Micaela Mesino says:

    “The first essay for the writing class that was accounted for half of his course load was so bad his teacher gave him a NO Pass.” After reading this article, it makes me wonder how our traditional k-12 grading system in inner cities can impact a students’ self-esteem. Kashawn Campbell was accepted to UC Berkeley, but had a difficult time passing his writing class. The question that comes to mind is “Were the grades inflated for Keshawn at Jefferson High School? I realized the importance of teaching my students to discover their passion, think critically, love learning and continue to explore.

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  28. Janice Lopez says:

    Grading students in such a way that does not reflect mastery will clearly affect student success in post high school education. It raises concern regarding lack of rigor, expectation, disconnect between instruction and assessment.

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  29. Lynn Brown says:

    This article raises the question for me…what is the value in letter grades? “By the end of his senior year, Kashawn’s 4.06 grade point average was second best in the senior class” (Streeter, 2013, p. 4). He was accepted to UC Berkeley but struggled to meet the writing standard, had gaps in his knowledge of history and came very close to failing out. Clearly the letter grades he received in high school inaccurately reflected his level of knowledge and skills. I don’t believe his teachers inflated his grades. Keep in mind Kashawn was coming from a tough neighborhood, faced with many challenges, and relative to his peers, he probably was above average. I think the grading system failed him. With specific learning targets teachers would have been able to note his progress. Instead, we do what we know – letter grades. Keshawn may have passed his high school tests because he memorized the study guide or is lucky with test taking skills. Either way, his academic performance was inaccurately measured, and this was a disservice to a young and ambitious student. I admire his strength to persevere.

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  30. We don’t hear much from the students’ actual teachers, what they learned, or how they were graded. We do find out that Kashawn got grades that didn’t transfer realistically to the rigor demanded at Cal. The odds were and probably continue to be stacked against him. A quick internet search shows he’s currently caught up with the life insurance pyramid scheme Primerica.

    Perhaps we need to grade (and teach) more critical thinking and applying the practices of good science. The LA Times article is a snapshot in time and it would be nice to read a follow-up now after four years. “It was so rare to have a kid like Kashawn, especially an African American male, wanting that badly to go to college,” said Jeremy McDavid, a former Jefferson vice principal. “We got together as a staff and decided that this kid, we cannot let him down.”

    So did they inflate his GPA so he could get into Cal? I would argue that there’s more to education than just getting to the next step of education. Maybe we should be instilling students with a genuine love of learning and discovering their own passions. Grades themselves are probably pointless in pursuit of those goals.

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  31. Clay Landon says:

    On the one hand, yes, Kashawn was arguably done a disservice by getting an inflated GPA. On the other hand, without the inflated GPA, he doesn’t get into Cal, he doesn’t get the opportunity to work extremely hard (as he has always done) to make it to his sophomore year. Schools with better resources have an advantage, true, but I’ll put my inner city school against many–if not most–schools with better resources. I’ll be interested in a follow up article about Kashawn. I suspect he’ll be just fine.

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  32. Danny Chavez-Perez says:

    This does not surprise me as the guidelines for those in the Inner-City are usually lower than those from other schools. The expectations are lower in the inner city in comparison to students from Beverly Hills

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  33. John says:

    Traditional grading practices seem to allow the types of things described in the article to occur. We need assessment tools that can measure the standards independently of the geographic location or socio-economic status of the school.

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  34. J. Kelley says:

    This article raises a lot of questions about the varying quality of education from school to school. Kashawn’s grades were very high at his south Los Angeles high school. However, his actual skill level in writing essays was extremely low. Without extraordinary effort, persistence, extra teacher help, and a good roommate’s example, he would have failed completely in college. This situation should not exist. Kashawn deserved more from his high school education.

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  35. NIcole Bloom says:

    The article states that, “At Cal, he was among the hardest workers in the dorm, but he could barely keep afloat.” I think that a lot of teachers want to reward students for being “hard workers”, but motivating them to work hard is a disservice if they are wasting their efforts instead of working efficiently and effectively.

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  36. mcecil says:

    I was especially struck by this quote: “By the end of his senior year, Kashawn’s 4.06
    grade point average was second best in the senior class.” This article reveals how educators do not help students by giving them good grades that don’t correspond to skill mastery—in fact, this practice likely hurts students by giving them a false sense of their abilities.

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