Portland School District Workshops 'Equitable Grading Practices' That Outlaw Zeros for Cheating, Missing Work

All schools in Portland system are expected to implement the new guidelines by 2025

(Jackie Butler/Getty Images)
August 21, 2023

Portland Public Schools is workshopping new "equitable grading practices" that bar teachers from assigning "zeros" to students who cheat or fail to turn in assignments.

The district's initiative aims to address "racial disparities" and "inequities" in grading and instruction, a "journey" that the district began "during the pandemic," a handout reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon says. "Grading for equity," the handout states, includes eliminating "zeros" as a grade—even when a student cheats or fails to turn in a test or assignment. It also calls for no penalties for late work and no grades for both homework and "non-academic factors," such as "participation, attendance, effort, attitude, [and] behavior."

The new grading practices, which are expected to be implemented districtwide by 2025 after some classrooms adopted them last year, reflect left-wing efforts across the country to achieve "equitable outcomes" among all students. In California, for example, new equity-focused math curriculum guidelines aim to narrow the gap between gifted and non-gifted learners by abandoning "student tracking" practices that help accelerated learners access more advanced instruction.

Erika Sanzi, the outreach director at parental rights group Parents Defending Education, said Portland's "equitable grading practices" hurt both struggling and high-achieving students.

"These equitable grading policies, however well intended, are a disaster for the students who struggle most and for the students who need accelerated coursework," Sanzi told the Free Beacon.

Portland Public Schools declined to comment on its new grading practices.

The district's new "bias-resistant" grading initiative argues that teachers should assign grades "based on valid evidence of a student's content knowledge, not on evidence that … is likely to be influenced by a teacher's implicit bias or reflect a student's environment." Teachers who offer extra credit, give zeros for cheating, penalize late work, and dock students for poor attendance or classroom behavior may be guilty of such bias.

The initiative also calls to only "base grades on summative assessments, instead of classwork, homework, formative assessments, etc." Should a student cheat or fail to submit an assignment on time, teachers should provide a grade of at least 50 percent, the district handout outlining the initiative says. The initiative also calls to replace the typical "0-100" grading scale with a "0-4" scale.

While the district says it began implementing its equity-based grading policies in some classrooms during the pandemic, its delay in adopting them districtwide "has led to a mosaic of grading practices across schools and across the district that is confusing to students and families." As a result, the district will in the coming years work to "consolidate" its policies, according to its equitable grading practices handout.

"We need to organize and consolidate our efforts towards common policies to more consistently and better support students and families with equitable grading," the handout says.