The Albemarle County School Board “Didn’t Ask Many Questions.”

Atif Qarni, Virginia Secretary of Education, is pleased

by James C. Sherlock

As sure as the sun rises in the east, the coming woke fix for achievement gaps in schools will be modified grading standards as part of antiracism policies.

Albemarle County is already there. The School Board is poised to approve a new grading policy at its meeting September 24. “During the meeting, board members were pleased with the policy and didn’t ask many questions.”

Readers can be for that or against it, and it may prove a good thing, or not. Proof will be in the execution.

There is no word how college admission offices will perceive and evaluate the grades of applicants from Albemarle County high schools.  Also none on how students transferring from Albemarle County schools to another district or state will be evaluated for proper class placement in their new schools and their grades translated for transcript purposes.

Details to be worked out.

The cognitive dissonance in the reasoning of advocates of the grading change is apparent in two stories from the Charlottesville Daily Progress Sep 12, 2020 and  Feb 1, 2020.  It is also apparent in the DRAFT Grading Policy itself.

Some of the thoughts expressed by school officials and teachers interviewed for those articles:

“If you really want to close gaps and make things equitable, you’ve got to start addressing these inequalities in our schools, and grading is a big one,” Thomas said in an interview before the board meeting.”

“Initially, we designed the policy to be a philosophical framework for how we should think about grading,” said Natalie Farrell, a lead coach for mathematics. “They should be based on accuracy, consistency and they should support student learning. Those are our beliefs as a division, so getting that policy on paper is step one for us.”

“It’s a very real thing that affects a lot of students when your grades are not based on your content knowledge necessarily but the preparation or what you can bring in,” board member Katrina Callsen said. “So I’m very appreciative of the work. I’m excited to see us at this level of consistency across our grades in grading.”

“As part of the policy, the division outlines guiding practices, including how grades should be accurate and support student learning.”

“Accuracy means that grades should align to the standards for student learning, accurately describe student achievement, be impartial and fair and be separated from work habits, among other provisions, per the policy.”


“With standards, it’s not right or wrong,” said Stacey Heltz, an assistant principal at Charlottesville High School. “[A student] might’ve gotten the final answer wrong, but as a teacher, I can see that the student really gets the concept and they might’ve made a calculation error.”

“More equitable grading means not counting homework, class participation or other behaviors, teachers said.”

“In a standards-based class, the homework piece is not really factored into that grade,” she said. “ … But their grade in a regular classroom or on a traditional grading scale might be low because they don’t access or because they might be taking care of their siblings. So their grade is negatively impacted, not because they don’t understand but because they didn’t play the game of school.”

“(Superintendent) Thomas said changing grading ties into the division’s anti-racism policy, which calls on staff to ensure that each student can be successful. “This is one of those inequalities — grading — that we know happens systemically nationwide, and we’re going to tackle it and it’s going to be hard and we have a lot of staff members who are excited about that and want to get behind that,” he said.

Summing it up.

“A team of teachers and division staff members will figure out guidelines to help teachers implement those tenets.”

“(Superintendent Thomas said … that changing grading practices will be a big challenge.”

More details to be worked out.

The see the details of the challenge, I consulted the DRAFT Grading Policy  presented to the Board on September 10.

Per the policy, “Grading practices in the ACPS will be:”

– Accurately ​describe student achievement of knowledge and skills demonstrated in school
– Align to standards for student learning
– Be separated from work habits
– Be impartial and fair, not influenced by a teacher’s implicit bias or reflective of a
student’s environment
– Utilize mathematically sound calculations

Supportive of Student Learning
– Reflect individual differences and rates of learning
– Address the unique needs of special populations of students
– Make adjustments for transitional periods (including elementary to middle and middle to
– Encourage students to take an active role in setting goals and assessing progress
– Foster a positive self-image for the student
– Inform teaching practices and student learning
– Promote practices that encourage continuous engagement in learning
– Provide parents and students ongoing, credible, and useful feedback in a timely manner

Be consistent within and across students, teams, departments, courses, and schools”

“Align to standards for student learning”, “separated from work habits”, “not influenced by a teacher’s implicit bias”, “unique needs of special populations of students”,  “adjustments for transitional periods”, “inform teaching practices and student learning”.

The School Board “didn’t ask many questions.” Really.