Fifth largest public school district implements 'equitable grading system,' following higher ed trend

The Nevada school district's grading policies are intended to 'embody the core values of equity, accountability, and high expectations for all students.'

The newly installed grading format enables students to retake tests and excludes penalties for poor behavior.

Nevada’s Clark County School District (CCSD), the fifth largest school district in the nation, has moved toward implementing an “equitable grading system“ in its classrooms as part of a recent grading reform initiative.

The new grading method is specifically designed to “embody the core values of equity, accountability, and high expectations for all students,” according to the CCSD website

For the 2022-2023 school year, CCSD sought to “[i]mplement a consistent reassessment policy to include opportunities for reflection, revision, and reassessment to ensure mastery of the NVACS [Nevada Academic Content Standards] and District curriculum for all students.”

Campus Reform reached out to CCSD for comment on the new equitable grading policies. 

The new grade regulation went into effect in August 2021 after more than a decade of research and implementation efforts throughout the District,” a CCSD media relations official stated.

“That process included input from parents/guardians, educators, and principals at all levels to develop plans to ensure equity and access for all students in support of increased student achievement,” he continued. 

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A task force called the CCSD Grading Reform Committee has since implemented the new grading policies as part of the school district’s 5-year strategic plan that is “committed to student success.” 

The new equity grading system designates homework and classwork as “formative assessments” that are weighted at between 0% and 20%. The overall grade, however, is primarily determined by “summative assessments” such as tests and essays. 

As such, less emphasis is placed on homework and the need for studying for tests has diminished since students have opportunities to retake them. “Students will also have the opportunity to revise and/or retake tests to encourage continued academic growth in areas they may not have fully understood the first time,” CCSD states.

“Additionally, an EdWeek Research Center survey found that the opportunity to redo assignments was the top motivator among students surveyed, which is one of the priority areas for CCSD,” the media relations official told Campus Reform

The new policy also discusses how classroom behavior plays a role in the grading method. Students still have to “demonstrate appropriate behaviors” but “[t]hese behavioral expectations will not be reflected in academic grades.”

Furthermore, this means that “academic performance” is “the only factor included in student grades” since behavior will be reported separately. 

As part of the methods for evaluating behavior, these grades will be given out for works of “habit” and “employability skills,” such as “turning assignments in on time and participating in class discussion.”

There is also no punishment for late assignments; overdue work will be simply be recorded as an “L.” The grade can also later change to reflect a “more accurate score.” 

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Using zeros as part of the grading scale is no longer permitted since they  “miscommunicate the level of student progress toward mastery of the academic content, distorting grades and making them less accurate and meaningful.” The lowest possible grade a student can receive is a “50 percent.”

“Grades are more meaningful when they are accurate,” a CCSD pamphlet said. 

At the college level, schools have begun to consider equitable grading standards as well. In 2018, former public school teacher Joe Feldman published a book titled Grading for Equity, which has served as a popular model for academics to implement this new system.

In recent years, Harvard University has prominently featured Feldman’s calls to “rethink grading in our schools.” In a recent interview, the University of Chicago’s Network for College Success explored how the prevalence of the equity-based grading scale could serve to help minority students.

Feldman has been linked to various colleges such as Stanford and UC Berkeley, collaborating with professors to enable students greater opportunities to retake tests and do away with the traditional grading system.

Beth Patel, an English instructor at the College of Marin, praised Feldman’s proposals, stating: “Equity is not about making things easier. It’s about giving everyone the opportunity to be successful.

School districts in other states such as CaliforniaIowa and Virginia have instituted equitable grading structures as well. CCSD maintains an enrollment of approximately 315,000 students.

Moving forward, CCSD will seek to “[i]mplement standards-based reporting using proficiency levels at the secondary level.”

Campus Reform reached out to all relevant parties listed in this article and will update the story accordingly.