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Should students still get grades during remote learning? In Chicago, debate stirs on social media

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Should Chicago grade students during the coronavirus pandemic?

With grades due Friday, a debate has unfolded on social media, even as the district has spelled out that students cannot be penalized for failing to participate or turn in assignments during the remote learning period.

Administrators have told teachers to forge ahead with grades, keeping in mind that students can only improve the grades they had before emergency school closures took effect March 17. In a letter to parents Wednesday, schools chief Janice Jackson and Chief Education Officer LaTanya McDade thanked parents for their efforts getting remote learning up and running and spelled out plans to continue with grading and next week’s parent conferences, which will be held virtually.

“We know that learning at home may be incredibly challenging for students and parents, and we thank you for all you have done this week to help your child learn in a new way,” they wrote.

Meanwhile, the city’s teachers union is calling on the district to delay grading by two weeks, and to change to a pass/fail system with an individual opt-in for letter grades for college-bound students.

“It’s wrong to assign letter grades based on just four weeks of assessed classroom instruction, in the midst of one of the worst public health crises our country has seen,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey wrote in a letter Thursday. “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.”

Teachers have taken to social media to both criticize the policy and defend it. Some have argued that students need incentives to continue participation, and it’s only fair to give students who had flagging grades a shot at doing better.

Critics contend the policy is inequitable, since students with Internet access or devices can presumably improve their positions, whereas those without access or who are juggling care for siblings at home or other complexities are stuck.

There’s also the issue of timing. Chicago is five days into its remote learning plan, and students and teachers said they are still troubleshooting technology and other glitches that prevent students from completing assignments.

In an informal Chalkbeat poll on Twitter, 26.8% said the district should move ahead with grading, 57.1% said it should reconsider, and 16.1% were undecided. All together, 112 people responded.

Here are some of the arguments we saw.

Today Chicago Public Schools announced their "business as usual" plan to send report cards home next week despite the school closures since March 17th and the huge tech and access divide that exists in our city. CPS and the Illinois State Board of Education keep repeating that work completed since the closures can only improve grades, but what that really means is that only students who have been fiscally and physically well from the start of the COVID-19 outbreak will have a chance to strengthen their overall grade. To assign students third quarter letter grades based on four weeks of assessed classroom instruction is wrong. During this pandemic, the vast inequities of the selective enrollment charade will deepen unless we change course. CPS uses a racist ranking system in which letter grades are a major component to sort 5th graders for academic center placement as 7th graders and to sort 7th graders for high school selective enrollment placements in this city. High School juniors will also be impacted when applying to colleges and universities next fall. This could determine a whole generation’s educational opportunity and outcome unless we, the teachers, prioritize equity. We need to organize and demand that CPS move to a pass/no pass system for quarter 3 grades and for the duration of the crisis. It would be a humane measure within a global health crisis that is affecting all students, but is disproportionately affecting communities of color in Chicago. Love and solidarity ❤️✊ -Roxana in collaboration with Toomey and Forton at Ravenswood.

Posted by Roxana González on Tuesday, April 14, 2020

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