Superintendent Reykdal says after COVID schools may drop letter grades and use an automatic minimum instead

By LIV FINNE  | 
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May 1, 2020

On Monday John Carlson of KVI Radio interviewed state superintendent Chris Reykdal about the public schools, including the Seattle School Board’s decision to drop letter grades and give all high school students an automatic A or Incomplete during COVID-19. Seattle has defied the recommendation that high school teachers assign grades or an “Incomplete” during COVID from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, the agency Reykdal leads.

Pressed by Carlson, Reykdal refused to criticize Seattle school officials. He also predicted the state might toss aside all grades in the future, marking students as either “Proficient” or “Non-Proficient” with no recognition of achievement.   Here’s the key exchange:


John Carlson:

“…Seattle Superintendent Juneau is designing a system to give almost everyone an A, and hardly anyone will get an Incomplete.

Reykdal:         

“…we are telling districts that here in Olympia we will put on every transcript this year an indicator that this semester was the COVID-19 semester….

John Carlson:   

“OK, but two things. The first is---that Superintendent Juneau and [Chief Academic Officer] Dr. DeBacker have made it clear that they want this to be the model going forward, that they think grades are exacerbating inequities because they show differences between students, because what do you know, students perform differently in schools, for a variety of reasons.

“The second thing is--- I don’t know why you haven’t called a press conference lambasting the Seattle school district for plainly abusing the system of letter grading.

Reykdal:         

“They have the legal authority to set their grading scale.

Carlson:          

“Sure they do, but that doesn’t mean you can’t complain about it.

Reykdal:         

“Yes, well.

Carlson:          

“But this is a mockery. This is a mockery of grades.

Reykdal:         

“Well, John, let’s make sure you understand two things about education right now. We have [a] 150-year system on letter grades, which has mostly differentiated kids by their workload, so the more worksheets I turn in, the better I do on my grades.  What’s happening all over the country right now is a standards-based movement brought to us by a lot of people in the business community who say ‘can’t you just pick a proficiency standard, assess students against that, I don’t care if it is maybe C or D. I want to know if they got to a level of proficiency or not.’  Some of the best colleges and universities in the world now only use a check or not check system. You have met Proficiency or you haven’t. Now it is starting to emerge in K-12. And so this isn’t a necessarily radical idea, whether it should be an A for everyone is definitely debatable and controversial. Should it be Proficient or Not Proficient? Maybe.

Carlson:          

“Wait a minute. You don’t think that A’s for everyone is radical?

Reykdal:         

“… there is a real scenario where most of the states move away from letter grades over the next 10 to 20 years, [in favor of] demonstrated Proficiency, students have to meet a [certain] level of skills and knowledge, and they will be marked Proficient, and that’s it.”


Later in the interview Superintendent Reykdal suggested he is looking at the options of passing a new law to control grading statewide. Superintendent Reykdal and other educators appear set to toss out grades after COVID. They subscribe to the “social justice” idea that grading students based on achievement is racially inequitable. Reykdal appears to prefer marking students automatically as either “Proficient” or “Not Proficient.” Yet in a system based on vague and ill-defined notions of racism and equity, no child would have an incentive to excel and reach for his or her highest potential.  Students would quickly discover what the minimum is to get a “proficient” rating and shoot for that.  It would also deny students a scale that shows how much they have improved.  That of course is unfair to students who want to work harder and do better.

The absurdity of this thinking is providing parents yet another reason to seek education alternatives for their children. Parents know cancelling the grading system will cheat their children of the challenge needed to get a great public education. That is why parents increasingly want more access to public charter schools, online schools, and private schools, where teachers are committed to the discipline of learning and teaching, and to assessing students based on real achievement that encourages them to go as far as their imagination will take them.

 

 

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