School board committee talks educational equity
By Eileen Persike
A Rhinelander School Board committee continued a conversation Monday that began in May about
grading practices, class rank, weighted classes and educational equity. Leading the discussion with the Instruction and Accountability Committee was a team of district administrators who want to improve equity at the high school. In May the committee asked for more information about weighted classes, which was a primary focus at that meeting.
“In our discussions, it became clear this was part of a much bigger conversation and we had to take steps back to get started on that conversation,” said Superintendent Kelli Jacobi. “We can only move one step at a time. It was critical that you have the background information we were using in our thought processes.”
Rhinelander High School Associate Principal Kari Strebig told the committee the district has “some large
inequities in our system practices, our system design that still need to be closed.” This, she added, is part of a larger conversation. “When we talk about education and excellence for all kids – I know it sounds cliché, but it needs to be for all kids.”
Asked to list examples of educational inequities, Strebig offered weighted grades, class rank, A through F grading, and grading based on point accumulation versus mastery of a standard.
After reading a pair of articles on grading practices provided to the committee, chair Judy Conlin said she was surprised to learn grading inequity is still a concern because the district has been working on it for “a long time.” The district, she said, should be assertively addressing grading practices first and foremost.
“That strikes at the heart of every student being successful.” Conlin said. “If we still have teachers who are grading on behavior, grading on homework…our students are never going to be successful and weighted and everything else doesn’t matter because this gets at the heart of every student.”
The district does not have universal grading practices, Strebig responded. Elementary schools have standards-based grading but the middle school and high school do not, which Strebig said is an inequity, as is “the very act of weighting a grade.”
Grading equity “absolutely aligns with the school board’s strategic plan,” Strebig told the committee as she began a powerpoint presentation, including student success, meeting or exceeding expectations on assessments, delivering high quality instruction, increasing educational opportunities.
“We know research has not always made its way into our system and this is where schools across the nation are trying to catch up with grading practices that were creating during the Industrial Revolution,” Strebig said. “We’re 200 years lagging behind in things we have to change.”
Discussion also turned to what the administrators said is a diminishing importance of class rank in college admissions, the mental health aspects of academic struggles and competition and changing from a “top ten” focus to the laude system – all of which Strebig said are part of the grading practices conversation. It’s expected the next discussion will include more information on standardized grading; looking at other schools that made changes to weighted grades and options to weighted grading.