News

PUSD eyes academic equity with grading practice overhaul

'Accurate, bias-resistant, and motivational' grading system would exclude attendance and extra credit

A proposal to overhaul grading practices at Pleasanton Unified School District became a broader discussion about ensuring both academic equity and accountability for secondary students at the Board of Trustees meeting last Thursday.

Professional development is the backbone of the equitable grading plan, which is intended to create "accurate, bias-resistant, and motivational" grading practices among secondary teachers at PUSD, according to a 24-page report presented at the June 24 meeting. Equitable grading practices are also shown to help reduce achievement disparities, grade inflation, grade deflation, and "statistically significant increase in correlation between grades and standardized exam scores."

Oakland-based Crescendo Education Group CEO Joe Feldman explained the theory and framework for equitable grading that evening, as well as outcomes, and said forgiveness is a central theme in which "we no longer hold mistakes against students."

By tying grades to academic performance only instead of factors like attendance or extra credit -- particularly most recent performance -- Feldman said students and teachers at other schools have reported more motivation with the equity grading system.

"The mistakes they make at the beginning hold their grade down, and when we use the most recent performance, we no longer hold them down," Feldman said.

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Noting "intrinsic motivation is much more powerful" than extrinsic motivation, he added "there's lots of ways that teachers can give feedback" to encourage student participation in the classroom besides inflating letter grades.

"What we see over and over is that there is reduced grade inflation and reduced grade deflation," Feldman said. "Students aren't getting all the points for just doing stuff like bringing in the food for the potluck and just because they got their homework done on time everyday, even though they have nothing to do with their learning."

Instead, Feldman said the district should be asking "how can we make our grades really clear about what they represent and what they don't, and help build the intrinsic motivation for students to do the things that will help them learn best.

One way to accomplish that is by "not averaging performance over time...and instead making the grade only reflective of the students academic performance at the end of their learning with rubrics and clarity and explicitness."

Feldman also recommended giving students opportunities for retakes and redos, as well as performative feedback, and even non-grade based feedback from teachers including verbal praise or recognition on the classroom wall can help motivate a student's performance.

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"If you say to a student, 'I've never been more proud of some of the things you said today, that was some of the most interesting comments I've heard from you all year, keep it up,' that means more than 'I'll give you five points because you raised your hand and you answered a question,'" he added.

Board President Joan Laursen said she predicted "there are going to be people in our community who are like, 'well, we shouldn't have grades at all,'" and that a series of upcoming workshops in the fall are needed "to engage in those same types of conversations" with parents.

"Absolutely, that's a key component because they only know one system and when they start to learn about this one, they actually love it," Feldman replied. "But initially they get a little anxious, especially parents of students who have been successful, because you're suggesting that you're going to change the rules of the game that they learned how to play successfully."

Feldman continued, "But when you start explaining what this is, they like it more, too, because why would they want their students to have a B, if they don't know the content...and then they go to the next grade level and get crushed because they weren't prepared, so everyone wants more accurate reporting."

Trustee Kelly Mokashi asked about holding students accountable for turning in late work, and Feldman said that question "comes up all the time."

"You warp the accuracy of the grade if you take off (points) for it because then you'd have a student who handed in something on time that's at a B level and a student who handed in something a day late who is at the A level," Feldman said. "But because they hand in late, both students are getting a B. What does that even mean then, what is a B?"

Helping students "recognize what the consequences are for handing in something late" is important but Feldman said "it may be under their control, and it may not be."

"Particularly during the pandemic, I think we became much more aware of how much grace that we should offer each other and our students, and that many times just because something is late doesn't mean it's their fault," he said. "The second thing is why would we want to penalize someone who wanted to learn longer than we allowed them?"

Without harming a student's grade for turning in something late, Feldman said they can still learn the consequences of turning in late assignments because "now you feel more pressure to hand in more things later because this work accumulates."

"If it's a time management problem, let's think about how to build time management skills, but to say we must give a consequence is just extrinsic motivation talking," Feldman said.

Trustee Steve Maher said, "What I see is maybe even a step further. As an educator, I would look to see (if) maybe I'm not using correct strategies or maybe I'm not using the curriculum correctly, because why are students still not getting to the level of understanding that I would like. That takes kind of self-reflection and looking at oneself, and maybe changing how you're utilizing your lessons."

Maher added, "I would hope that this would evolve, not only with the grading, but also teachers looking at how they present their lessons. In elementary school, I do see it happening in many cases. I'm not sure about high school yet, but I think they would like to get there."

PUSD is currently planning a series of Equity Learning Design workshops that will kick off in September. During that time, secondary teachers will participate in action research, with each educator selecting an equitable grading practice to try and then later share the results. Individual half-hour coaching sessions will also be offered for teachers, who will be partnered with a teacher of the same or similar subject already experienced in equitable grading, as well as support and feedback.

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PUSD eyes academic equity with grading practice overhaul

'Accurate, bias-resistant, and motivational' grading system would exclude attendance and extra credit

by / Pleasanton Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Jun 30, 2021, 10:39 am

A proposal to overhaul grading practices at Pleasanton Unified School District became a broader discussion about ensuring both academic equity and accountability for secondary students at the Board of Trustees meeting last Thursday.

Professional development is the backbone of the equitable grading plan, which is intended to create "accurate, bias-resistant, and motivational" grading practices among secondary teachers at PUSD, according to a 24-page report presented at the June 24 meeting. Equitable grading practices are also shown to help reduce achievement disparities, grade inflation, grade deflation, and "statistically significant increase in correlation between grades and standardized exam scores."

Oakland-based Crescendo Education Group CEO Joe Feldman explained the theory and framework for equitable grading that evening, as well as outcomes, and said forgiveness is a central theme in which "we no longer hold mistakes against students."

By tying grades to academic performance only instead of factors like attendance or extra credit -- particularly most recent performance -- Feldman said students and teachers at other schools have reported more motivation with the equity grading system.

"The mistakes they make at the beginning hold their grade down, and when we use the most recent performance, we no longer hold them down," Feldman said.

Noting "intrinsic motivation is much more powerful" than extrinsic motivation, he added "there's lots of ways that teachers can give feedback" to encourage student participation in the classroom besides inflating letter grades.

"What we see over and over is that there is reduced grade inflation and reduced grade deflation," Feldman said. "Students aren't getting all the points for just doing stuff like bringing in the food for the potluck and just because they got their homework done on time everyday, even though they have nothing to do with their learning."

Instead, Feldman said the district should be asking "how can we make our grades really clear about what they represent and what they don't, and help build the intrinsic motivation for students to do the things that will help them learn best.

One way to accomplish that is by "not averaging performance over time...and instead making the grade only reflective of the students academic performance at the end of their learning with rubrics and clarity and explicitness."

Feldman also recommended giving students opportunities for retakes and redos, as well as performative feedback, and even non-grade based feedback from teachers including verbal praise or recognition on the classroom wall can help motivate a student's performance.

"If you say to a student, 'I've never been more proud of some of the things you said today, that was some of the most interesting comments I've heard from you all year, keep it up,' that means more than 'I'll give you five points because you raised your hand and you answered a question,'" he added.

Board President Joan Laursen said she predicted "there are going to be people in our community who are like, 'well, we shouldn't have grades at all,'" and that a series of upcoming workshops in the fall are needed "to engage in those same types of conversations" with parents.

"Absolutely, that's a key component because they only know one system and when they start to learn about this one, they actually love it," Feldman replied. "But initially they get a little anxious, especially parents of students who have been successful, because you're suggesting that you're going to change the rules of the game that they learned how to play successfully."

Feldman continued, "But when you start explaining what this is, they like it more, too, because why would they want their students to have a B, if they don't know the content...and then they go to the next grade level and get crushed because they weren't prepared, so everyone wants more accurate reporting."

Trustee Kelly Mokashi asked about holding students accountable for turning in late work, and Feldman said that question "comes up all the time."

"You warp the accuracy of the grade if you take off (points) for it because then you'd have a student who handed in something on time that's at a B level and a student who handed in something a day late who is at the A level," Feldman said. "But because they hand in late, both students are getting a B. What does that even mean then, what is a B?"

Helping students "recognize what the consequences are for handing in something late" is important but Feldman said "it may be under their control, and it may not be."

"Particularly during the pandemic, I think we became much more aware of how much grace that we should offer each other and our students, and that many times just because something is late doesn't mean it's their fault," he said. "The second thing is why would we want to penalize someone who wanted to learn longer than we allowed them?"

Without harming a student's grade for turning in something late, Feldman said they can still learn the consequences of turning in late assignments because "now you feel more pressure to hand in more things later because this work accumulates."

"If it's a time management problem, let's think about how to build time management skills, but to say we must give a consequence is just extrinsic motivation talking," Feldman said.

Trustee Steve Maher said, "What I see is maybe even a step further. As an educator, I would look to see (if) maybe I'm not using correct strategies or maybe I'm not using the curriculum correctly, because why are students still not getting to the level of understanding that I would like. That takes kind of self-reflection and looking at oneself, and maybe changing how you're utilizing your lessons."

Maher added, "I would hope that this would evolve, not only with the grading, but also teachers looking at how they present their lessons. In elementary school, I do see it happening in many cases. I'm not sure about high school yet, but I think they would like to get there."

PUSD is currently planning a series of Equity Learning Design workshops that will kick off in September. During that time, secondary teachers will participate in action research, with each educator selecting an equitable grading practice to try and then later share the results. Individual half-hour coaching sessions will also be offered for teachers, who will be partnered with a teacher of the same or similar subject already experienced in equitable grading, as well as support and feedback.

Comments

Pleasanton Parent
Registered user
Pleasanton Meadows
on Jun 30, 2021 at 3:14 pm
Pleasanton Parent, Pleasanton Meadows
Registered user
on Jun 30, 2021 at 3:14 pm

I'm all for looking how to prevent grade inflation and how to ensure consistency and transparency in grading - these are good actions to take on.

This hippy BS on a student that turns in assignments late will be motivated by piling up work to turn them in on time vs getting a B vs an A is absolute hogwash. You reward the students that do assignments on time and to the full expectation, you take off points for assignments being turned in late - sorry this is the way the world works. Don't like it, fine, but don't set kids up for failure by setting an expectation of time irrelevance.


Todd
Registered user
Livermore
on Jun 30, 2021 at 4:21 pm
Todd, Livermore
Registered user
on Jun 30, 2021 at 4:21 pm

That’s not the way to prepare students for college and the work place. Most colleges dock for late work and most work places have disciplinary actions for tardiness. Correct me if I’m wrong but doesn’t PUSD write up teachers or staff for being late? Is it that hard to teach responsibility??


Rosie
Registered user
Pleasanton Meadows
on Jun 30, 2021 at 5:20 pm
Rosie, Pleasanton Meadows
Registered user
on Jun 30, 2021 at 5:20 pm

I'm going to say that there are possible improvements on how we do grading. Sometimes slashing a grade 50% off for being 1 day late does seem harsh. However, all this reads to me is "how can we set up the k-12 PUSD grading so less students fail, thus our school looks more successful" vs what we should really be looking at which is "how can we help our students learn and become successful adults."

Let's just take this down the logical path 10 years down. The segment of students who likely have benefitted and coddled in this new "equitable" system learn 1) that there are no consequences in turning in anything late. 2) there will always be some sort of "institution" that will keep them from failing (the k-12 system). How do you think these kids will fair when they get into college (when they fail to turn in assignments on time, I doubt every university adopt this)? When they get a job and fail to deliver what's being asked? It's all rainbows and butterflies until reality hits.

I'm disappointed to see continued dumbing down of standards. If you always set a low bar for a kid, they will never be challenged to jump to their full potential. Sadly, the schools are doing this to themselves and the kids. I get it, they all want to "help" and hiring a consultant is the easy path. But making it easier to get better grade is not going to help them in the long run.

Alternatively, why are we not spending more extra funds on providing additional tutoring sessions for kids who might need it? 1:1 time really helps (vs spending it on consultants). Why don't we add curriculum or seminars for kids to learn life skills, money management skills, and emphasizing personal responsibility (even at a young age). I would argue that there are many more things that can be done to actually help our kids be successful and self reliant young adults vs just making sure they're not getting a bad grade to drag down PUSD rankings. Something needs to change, and it's not the grading policy.


Pleasanton Parent
Registered user
Pleasanton Meadows
on Jul 1, 2021 at 7:03 am
Pleasanton Parent, Pleasanton Meadows
Registered user
on Jul 1, 2021 at 7:03 am

Agreed, there's no free lunch......oh wait, now there is, and breakfast too. Schools are becoming better at solving how to feed students stomachs than they are at feeding their minds.


MichaelB
Registered user
Pleasanton Meadows
on Jul 1, 2021 at 7:26 am
MichaelB, Pleasanton Meadows
Registered user
on Jul 1, 2021 at 7:26 am

"How do you think these kids will fair when they get into college (when they fail to turn in assignments on time, I doubt every university adopt this)? When they get a job and fail to deliver what's being asked? It's all rainbows and butterflies until reality hits."


The "reality" part is quickly changing...for the worse.

Anyone who does not deliver what is being asked can simply do what our elected officials and so called "progressive" activists are doing right now - claim that all of our nation's institutions (and any expectations of performance from them) are "systemically racist" and reflections of "white supremacy". They can then demand the government provide "equity" (preferential treatment, guaranteed employment, more "free" items from taxpayers, etc.) to resolve it.

Anyone who does perform well? They will be accused of "creating division" and "perpetuating stereotypes".


Jake Waters
Registered user
Birdland
on Jul 1, 2021 at 8:16 am
Jake Waters, Birdland
Registered user
on Jul 1, 2021 at 8:16 am

Everybody attached to the Public School system is rewarded by pay raises, which begs the question: For what? It is becoming very apparent that teaching is becoming a sweet Job. Just give the students an ‘A’ for showing up sometimes or eventually, and give them a grade for doing ‘lunch’ well.

Parents with any interest in their child’s education and future should look elsewhere for a system that actually educates and prepares them for the future- Charter Schools, Home Schooling, Private School, and others.

Leave the Progressives to pay for the school bonds.


LanceM
Registered user
Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jul 1, 2021 at 10:02 am
LanceM, Another Pleasanton neighborhood
Registered user
on Jul 1, 2021 at 10:02 am

@Jake Water - apparently you are clueless and have an agenda against teachers. This article has nothing to do with what teachers want. This is about what the district want to the teachers to do. They are going to hiring consultants to convince the school board and then mandate the teachers teach/grade this way. As described, it makes grading much harder for the teachers.

Talking about raises as a reward in pretty silly because PUSD teacher salaries have not kept up with inflation for the last 20+ years. Hardly a reward.


Brad
Registered user
Birdland
on Jul 1, 2021 at 11:43 am
Brad, Birdland
Registered user
on Jul 1, 2021 at 11:43 am

The Districts is joining other Districts in lowering standards and achievement.
All the recent actions of PUSD about " equity ", " racial Justice " and socialism are disgusting. I am one of many former proud of PUSD residents are pretty fed up. Spending $ 250.000 on a consultant to advise us to treat each other as normal human beings is a terrible waste.
AS Mao Tse Tung said " everyone should be equal- equally poor".
I have been a big supporter of PUSD for 52 years. I am disappointed that is coming to an end.


buklau
Registered user
Avila
on Jul 1, 2021 at 12:16 pm
buklau, Avila
Registered user
on Jul 1, 2021 at 12:16 pm

What a great way to prepare our youth for their careers!

We should abolish GPA, SAT, and ACT altogether...that way students can apply to college with only their ethnicity and sexual orientation.


Longtime Resident
Registered user
Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jul 1, 2021 at 2:05 pm
Longtime Resident, Another Pleasanton neighborhood
Registered user
on Jul 1, 2021 at 2:05 pm

How about implementing this for the actual neuro-divergent students that need it because they fall through the cracks rather than throwing up 504 and IEP roadblocks that not everyone has the money to overcome?

Is it really that difficult to provide written instructions for assignments or not penalizing for late work from a kid with undeveloped executive function skills without there being a specific accommodation for it in a 504 or IEP?

Train your teachers!


Linda
Registered user
Stoneridge
on Jul 1, 2021 at 8:22 pm
Linda, Stoneridge
Registered user
on Jul 1, 2021 at 8:22 pm

I hope those who have been critical of evidence-based grading would do some more reading on the topic. You will find out that, instead of lowering standards or failing to hold students accountable, the approach does just the opposite.
Many seem concerned about a lack of consequences for students not turning in work. The consequence for not turning in work should be to REQUIRE that the work be completed. Under a "traditional" system, the student could simply receive a zero and never be required to complete the work. This does not contribute to the student's learning. There are many ways to teach and reward punctuality and responsibility without making them a part of the assessment of how well a student understands concepts and performs required skills.
If we are truly interested in a rigorous curriculum that holds students accountable for their learning, then students need to be assessed on how well they can perform required skills and demonstrate their knowledge of content standards, not on how well they comply with rules. This does not mean that rules are unimportant. There are many academic behaviors that can contribute to student success, but assessing these behaviors is not the purpose of a report on student learning.
Check out Mr. Feldman's book, Grading for Equity. It provides a rich and well-researched explanation of what evidence-based grading is and why it is favored by so many educational leaders.


Todd
Registered user
Livermore
on Jul 1, 2021 at 8:55 pm
Todd, Livermore
Registered user
on Jul 1, 2021 at 8:55 pm

Let me see here - two candidates for the job - one shows up on time and one shows up late - gee wonder which candidate is most likely to get hired??? Give me a break people.


Rosie
Registered user
Pleasanton Meadows
on Jul 1, 2021 at 10:40 pm
Rosie, Pleasanton Meadows
Registered user
on Jul 1, 2021 at 10:40 pm

We as parents really need to start emailing and speaking up more at the school board meetings. We can complain and whine all we want on these message boards, but the Board members will vote all this in as usual. It's not PC to vote against anything labeled with the words "equity" in it in the current environment, unless they know there is a lot of parents against this.

Two other points:

1) Consultants will consult. That's how they make their money. Do you actually think this $250K will be the end of the spending? They will continue to propose ideas and things to implement, because they'll keep banking a paycheck. And if in 5 years we do not see actual positive results, the Board will just say, "well we relied on the consultants...how did we know it wouldn't work?" Look up at all the comments against this. We all know coddling doesn't work.

2) Again, I do think that there IS some adjustments that could be made around grading, however it seems that all these consultant suggestions will be putting the onus on our already stretched thin TEACHERS. I do appreciate the great teachers my kids have had at PUSD. I want them to also have good work life balance. Making them once again shift and change how they teach/grade is going to be adding another level of stress that I'm not sure is warranted.

I do like the prior suggestion from other poster above that we should make some considerations for those on IEPs. Those are the students that could use some extra grace and personalization. Kids NEED the structure at this age. They NEED to be challenged. Once again, this is a lazy move on the school board's direction in virtue signaling while wasting away more time and precious resources that could be directed at our students AND teachers.

I'm also very concerned with the adjustment to math tracking. Once again, removing opportunities for kids to excel by dumbing down all. I hope more parents are now paying attention to what's on the agendas in each meeting moving forward.


Pleasanton Parent
Registered user
Pleasanton Meadows
on Jul 2, 2021 at 8:41 am
Pleasanton Parent, Pleasanton Meadows
Registered user
on Jul 2, 2021 at 8:41 am

Linda,
I wish the board and district would stop making excuses and lowering the bar. This community has seen nothing but grade forgiveness in the last two years.

Oh, you're failing during the pandemic? No problem, that C, D, F won't count - and guess what, that 1 A you got in PE put you on the honor role - congratulations!

Don't want to turn in your assignments on time - no problem, when you get around to it we'd really appreciate it, thanks.

Get out of here with this BS. Rosie is right, its time to take back PUSD. The leadership is failing us and the board is allowing it to happen.

And lets not forget the $35M we just gave them to build a school they decided not to build.....and the $40M (or however much the prior bond was to do the same).....no school. Enrollment is down...really? Because every house I see selling is going to a family with school aged kids.

This board needs to go, administrators need to see the shot across the bow and make meaningful changes or go next.


Kathleen Ruegsegger
Registered user
Vintage Hills
on Jul 2, 2021 at 11:22 am
Kathleen Ruegsegger, Vintage Hills
Registered user
on Jul 2, 2021 at 11:22 am

First, you have to get rid of the person(s) making the recommendations to the board or nothing will change.


Pleasanton Parent
Registered user
Pleasanton Meadows
on Jul 3, 2021 at 11:24 am
Pleasanton Parent, Pleasanton Meadows
Registered user
on Jul 3, 2021 at 11:24 am

Kathleen, what would it take for you to run? I think you’re balanced.


Grumpy
Registered user
Vineyard Avenue
on Jul 3, 2021 at 2:56 pm
Grumpy, Vineyard Avenue
Registered user
on Jul 3, 2021 at 2:56 pm

Back to the original topic.

Most of this conversation has been about people guessing what would happen. Only a very few on here are education experts, and fewer are likely experts in contemporary test theory.

So why not do both as an experiment for a year? Let students get the higher of the grade on a normal system and one on the proposal. Then see what happens the following year. If a statistically and practically relevant group does show better classical outcomes by providing them the boost, so be it. If it instead leads to hogwash, good to know too.

I think the fear is that the board will rush into something blindly without actually trying it experimentally with real (non subjective) metrics. That’s a valid fear. Let’s not make big permanent changes until we know they’ll work locally.


FrequentWalkerMiles
Registered user
Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jul 7, 2021 at 9:14 pm
FrequentWalkerMiles, Another Pleasanton neighborhood
Registered user
on Jul 7, 2021 at 9:14 pm

By Feldman’s logic, let’s make teachers’ paycheck dates flexible as long as they are get paid the total by the end of the fiscal year. Right?

When I was a graduate student getting my MS, 80% of the students were international. Seems like PUSD wants to make that 100%


Pleasanton Parent
Registered user
Pleasanton Meadows
on Jul 8, 2021 at 8:33 am
Pleasanton Parent, Pleasanton Meadows
Registered user
on Jul 8, 2021 at 8:33 am

I do agree with Grumpy that any new approach should be tested and validated in a pilot program and spread vs just implementing. This is a good suggestion.

That said, this is still stupid.

Here's an easy test:
I owe the IRS taxes, they must accept that I'll pay the full amount owed when I want, so long as I eventually pay it in full, without penalty.

Oh they won't, accept that.

Ok, then learning to turn things in on time or face a penalty to drive the desired behavior makes sense.


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