An Illinois school district captured widespread internet attention when a surprising headline generated social media outrage: "OPRF to implement race-based grading system in 2022-23 school year."
"Oak Park and River Forest High School administrators will require teachers next school year to adjust their classroom grading scales to account for the skin color or ethnicity of its students," the May 30 story said. "They can no longer be docked for missing class, misbehaving in school or failing to turn in their assignments, according to the plan."
The story looked legitimate, but it was a misleading portrayal from an online publication called the West Cook News, one of a collection of local news sites that receive funding from Republican political campaigns and conservative organizations.
The story and posts about it were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
The West Cook News article cited a slide presentation from a May 26 school board meeting that read: "Traditional grading practices perpetuate inequities and intensify the opportunity gap."
But neither the slide presentation nor information about the school district’s plans confirm this claim of race-based grading.
The presentation was about professional development and grading.
"OPRFHS does not, nor has it ever had a plan to, grade any students differently based on race," district officials said in a statement released on the district’s website May 31. The district urged the public to get reliable information from the district or other credible news sources.
During the meeting, which was streamed on the school’s YouTube page, Laurie Fiorenza, assistant superintendent for student learning, talked to the board about the school’s efforts to establish a "building-wide, equitable grading philosophy."
"We know that traditional grading practices perpetuate the inequities," Fiorenza said.
Ralph Martire, a school board member, predicted the presentation could give the wrong impression of what the school is doing, and tried to make clear what equitable grading means.
"It’s not a dumbing down," he said during the meeting. "It’s finding a way to be objective about determining whether a student has mastered the academic content."
Specifics of equitable grading and assessment were not discussed during the meeting. A memo from Fiorenza to board members described efforts school officials are making to make grading more equitable, including assembling a working group of teachers and administrators who read and discussed texts about equitable assessment and grading practices.
Teachers are exploring and implementing some practices, such as eliminating zeros from the grade book, and encouraging and rewarding growth over time, the memo said.
"Prior to implementing grading changes, if any, recommendations will be made to the Board at a public meeting," the statement from the school said. "Again, contrary to the title of the article, the district has not implemented, and has no intention of implementing, any grading and assessment policy based on race."
West Cook News is part of Local Government Information Services, which claims to publish 20 digital editions and 11 print newspapers in Illinois. There are hundreds more of these sites around the country connected to conservative businessman Brian Timpone, according to the Columbia Journalism Review. A New York Times investigation in 2020 found that these news sites do not follow established journalistic principles for newsgathering and publishing, such as fairness and transparency.
A story from West Cook News claimed that a high school in Oak Park, Ill., would use race-based grading in the 2022-2023 school year.
The school board and administrators discussed ways to more equitably assess students during a May 26 meeting. But there is no indication the district plans to grade students differently based on race.
We rate this claim False.
June 6, 2022 at 07:30AM