CPS wrong to send 3rd quarter report cards amid pandemic, Chicago Teachers Union says

“The customary way of grading is inappropriate given remote learning during a global health pandemic,” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey.

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Second grade students listen during class at Roswell B. Mason Elementary School on the South Side.

Second grade students listen during class at Roswell B. Mason Elementary School on the South Side.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file photo

The Chicago Teachers Union on Thursday was highly critical of Chicago Public Schools’ decision to forge ahead with third quarter report cards despite students’ learning having been severely disrupted the past month while schools closed because of the coronavirus.

The union strongly chimed after frustrated teachers and parents took to social media to air their concerns about an announcement that CPS would end the academic quarter and finalize grades as previously scheduled.

Many called it another sign of inequity hurting the most under-resourced students in the district. Though CPS is working to distribute 100,000 laptops and tablets to students who need them, tens of thousands are still without computers this week as the grading quarter comes to a close.

CPS’ schedule had reflected an end to the third quarter Thursday, with an institute day for teachers Friday and report cards to be picked up at schools next week. Lots of students, parents and teachers assumed that would change given the ongoing struggles with launching remote learning. But the only change, the district announced in a letter to families Thursday, was that report cards would be mailed home instead.

“The customary way of grading is inappropriate given remote learning during a global health pandemic,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey wrote in a letter to members and supporters. “We need change.”

The union called on the district to delay grading for two weeks, then move to a pass and no-pass system without any failing grades. “There is no reason for any student to receive a failing grade right now,” Sharkey wrote. Students who need a letter grade for college admissions could opt-in for those, the union suggested.

“In a normal school year, Chicago’s public school educators this week would be submitting grades, preparing report cards and readying for parent-teacher conferences,” Sharkey said. “Instead, they are navigating Google classrooms, hosting video meetings and online lessons, and trying to connect with students by whatever means they can.”

In a statement Friday, CPS spokesman James Gherardi said the grades reflect the work students did before school buildings were closed.

”The district understands the importance of grades to our families, and we believe CPS students deserve to be recognized for the hard work they completed while classes were in session,” he said. “The third quarter grading period accounts for grades earned prior to the closure while providing ample opportunities for students to strengthen their grades once classes transitioned to remote learning.”

But Sharkey noted that there was only a month of classes before that happened.

“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,” he said. “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.”

CPS has said it will follow guidance from state education officials that students’ grades should’ve be lowered during the closures — meaning a bad grade on an assignment won’t count.

But many have then argued that only kids with reliable access to computers and the internet have been able to complete their assignments and raise their grade the past month. Any students who aren’t happy with their grades and don’t have those resources likely haven’t had that opportunity.

Gregory Goodman, a social studies teacher at Lindblom Math and Science Academy, a top-rated South Side high school, said on Twitter that he was “absolutely furious at [CPS’] 11th hour announcement that students will receive 3rd quarter grades.”

“It feels like CPS set a trap for my kids over the last month. You can’t suddenly announce the rules to a game in the final minutes of a game,” Goodman wrote. “We’re in the middle of a global health crisis, my kids’ families are dying and now we’re giving them mental health breakdowns because we’re announcing new rules to grading days before grades come out.”

Goodman said he would be fine with sending home a progress report and letting parents know how their kids are doing, but that sending home grades right now is “entirely inappropriate.”

A CPS spokeswoman didn’t respond to questions about whether the district had considered adjusting its plan for third quarter report cards.

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