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White Bear Lake middle school gets rid of ‘F’ grades. Parents raise concerns.

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White Bear Lake middle school gets rid of ‘F’ grades. Parents raise concerns.

Under a new grading system at a White Bear Lake middle school, students no longer will be given an F grade — no matter how bad they did on an assignment or test or if it was turned in late or not at all.

Instead, the grading system that began last month at Sunrise Middle School will start out at 50 percent, with nothing below that for assignments, tests, quizzes and projects. School officials say the approach, which one teacher described as “equitable grading” and a districtwide initiative, is aimed at ensuring that grades accurately reflect how well the students know the material and take out behavioral factors.

But some parents say the White Bear Lake’s new approach won’t motivate kids to excel and get work done on time.

The new method is among several efforts to change the way schools grade students, especially during the pandemic. For the 2020-21 school year, the Minnesota Department of Education urged schools to maintain a “do-no-harm” philosophy. Students, the department said, should get to choose the option of receiving a letter grade if it’s going to help their grade-point average, or a pass/fail grade if it won’t.

In a Sept. 24 video to parents, Sunrise Principal Christina Pierre explained their thinking by offering up a common situation from the past, when an F grade was classified as an I, or incomplete. Say a student received a B on one test, a C on another and then missed a third, which resulted in an incomplete test grade, or zero percentage points toward the overall grade. Taking all three grades into account, the student’s grade would also be an incomplete.

“That doesn’t seem fair, if two of the three grades are already passing grades, and only one of them, the student missed,” she said, “they shouldn’t have an overall grade of an ‘I.’”

So, the “solution,” she said, is to treat the incomplete grade the same as the B and the C by giving it a 50 percent, instead of zero.

In an interview Thursday, Pierre said that students would still get an overall grade of incomplete in the class if they score less than 60 percent.

Students will be given 10 days to retake or revise tests and quizzes and projects to better their scores. That window will allow teachers to work with students so they can learn the material, instead of just taking them as soon as possible when perhaps they are not ready, she said.

“We realize that not every kid gets it the first time,” she said. “Some students need more time to learn something than others.”

Also as part of the new system, Sunrise is now going to include in overall grades “exactly what the student knows based on what we want them to learn,” she said, and therefore grades no longer will include behavior, attitude, tardiness and whether an assignment was turned in late.

“There’s other ways that we can communicate those things to parents, and so they’re not going to be included in grades,” she said. “We recognize that this is really increasing the rigor of grades, we’re insisting that students make sure that they learn the material.”

CONCERNED PARENTS

Rebekah Bradfield, a Sunrise parent and candidate for the White Bear Lake School Board, said she first was told about the new grading system from her seventh-grade daughter’s language arts teacher about a week into the school year. In the email, which Bradfield forwarded to the Pioneer Press, the teacher explains that it was implemented schoolwide this year “as we move forward with more equitable grading practices throughout the district.”

Pierre said Thursday that the term “equitable grading” is “just another word for standards-based grading, which has been been around for 20 to 30 years. Standards-based grading is just about making sure that the grades communicate exactly what the student knows and is able to do.”

When asked about whether “equitable grading” involves addressing racial disparities in education, Pierre said, “I wouldn’t say it has nothing to do with it, but I wouldn’t say that it has everything to do with it. With everything we do, we need to be cognizant of how it impacts all of our students and our sub-populations.”

Bradfield said she dug into the goals of the district’s equity policies and they have a lot to do with grading. According to the district’s latest workforce and achievement and integration progress report, which was presented to the school board Sept. 27, the district wants enrollment in advanced high school courses to mirror the general student population in terms of race and family income.

Bradfield also pointed to a recent news release on the district’s website announcing that Superintendent Wayne Kazmierczak was named this year’s “Superintendent of the Year” by the Minnesota Association of School Administrators. It states the district has conducted an equity audit and, “in light of the killing of George Floyd and how conversations across the nation have evolved during this past year,” the district is “positioned to develop and implement both meaningful and actionable equity strategies, including through grading.”

“Grading can be one of the largest areas in which systemic racism and inequities are perpetuated,” the release states. “Kazmierczak and WBLAS believe grades should be a measure of what a student knows and has mastered in a given course. Grading should not be a behavior punishment and should not be a measure of how well a student can survive stress at home. Under Dr. Kazmierczak’s leadership and in line with the district’s strategic plan and commitment to eliminating systemic racism, the district began tackling grading disparities a year ago when they dramatically changed their grading practices.”

HOW ABOUT OTHER SCHOOLS?

Pierre said other secondary schools in the district are also doing some aspects of the new strategy, but was unsure Thursday to what extent.

“As a district, as any functional organization should, we are always reviewing our policies and our procedures and our systems to make sure we’re functioning as well as possible,” she said. “And so we should always be updating and improving what we do, and so this is just part of it.”

But Bradfield said the new grading system gives students little to no incentive to do the work on time — and she is not alone. She said she’s heard concerns from parents and has read them in parent Facebook groups.

“They have very similar concerns as I do,” she said, “where they’re saying that it’s going to look good on paper, but the kids are not going to be ready for real life.”

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Lydia Edwards talks Methadone Mile and free MBTA with sights set on State House

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Lydia Edwards talks Methadone Mile and free MBTA with sights set on State House

City Councilor Lydia Edwards is looking to shed City Hall for Beacon Hill, where she would be a big progressive ally to Boston Mayor Michelle Wu in the quest for a free MBTA, but says the two are at odds on other issues.

“On some issues we’ve disagreed,” Edwards said during a Sunday appearance on WCVB’s “On the Record,” pointing to the 2020 police budget, in which she backed then-Mayor Marty Walsh’s plan slashing $12 million in overtime funding from the Boston Police. Wu voted against the budget.

Edwards has been endorsed by progressive allies of Wu including U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, but in Sunday’s interview attempted to distance herself from lockstep politics.

“When it comes to the police budget, I have been very clear. I believe in fiscal responsibility. One of the biggest reforms we’re pushing for is overtime reform,” Edwards said.

The city councilor from East Boston said she wants to “bring to scale” programs that already exist, like street outreach teams to reduce the reliance on public safety in all situations.

Specifically, she pointed to the addiction crisis at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard as a place where alternative resources are needed.

The area disparagingly referred to as “Methadone Mile” has become a hotbed of drug addiction and homelessness in recent years and reached crisis proportions amid the pandemic as a major tent encampment popped up.

“This needs a regional response, not pass the buck,” Edwards said, emphasizing that communities around Greater Boston need to work together to solve the issues there.

“We don’t have a choice but to come together and come up with resources that we all share,” Edwards said.

If she makes the step from City Hall to the State House, Edwards said she would continue to fight for a free MBTA — carrying the Wu campaign issue. Democratic opponent Anthony D’Ambrosio has bucked the idea.

“The best thing we can do is make sure that public transportation is free,” Edwards said. “That is going to make sure that people have access to jobs, access to homes and that there’s a sustainable model that we can look to.”

D’Ambrosio, a Revere School Committee member, faces off against her in the special primary election on Dec. 14.

The general election takes place on Jan. 11, next year. No Republican candidates are running.

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Senator says businesses bearing burden of unemployment fraud

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Senator says businesses bearing burden of unemployment fraud

Candidate for state auditor, state Sen. Diana DiZoglio is calling for “sorely needed clarity” in the effort to replenish the unemployment trust — drained during the pandemic — with businesses apparently on the hook to pay back an eye-popping $7 billion — including nearly $2 billion in fraud.

“It is important that we know precisely how much of this deficit is due to fraud and overpayment issues which, we should add, should not be up to employers to pay for,” DiZoglio, D-Methuen, wrote in a Dec. 3 letter to Gov. Charlie Baker, signed by a group of bipartisan lawmakers.

The unemployment insurance fund — which is funded through a tax on employers — may have wracked up $7 billion in debt amid an unprecedented number of claims during the coronavirus pandemic, the Department of Unemployment Assistance has said.

As much as $1.6 billion in Massachusetts unemployment benefits payouts made amid the pandemic could be fraudulent, according to the the National Conference of State Legislatures and the U.S. Department of Labor.

“Mom and pop shops are left shouldering the burden of fraudulent claims,” DiZoglio told the Herald in an interview. She is calling for a full accounting and vowed to audit the Unemployment Insurance Fund and others cashing in on pandemic relief dollars should she win the auditor’s seat.

Lawmakers have authorized bonding the Unemployment Insurance debt so that it can be spread out over 20 years and paid for through  increased fees to businesses.

But the Baker administration said last week it still doesn’t actually know how much money it will ultimately borrow to cover the cost of the unprecedented number of pandemic-era claims. The Department of Unemployment Assistance recently reported to the Treasury a $2.9 billion positive balance, “creating tremendous uncertainty” amid a continued lack of transparency, DiZoglio said.

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Ravens starting RT Patrick Mekari leaves game vs. Steelers with hand injury, could be out a few weeks

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Ravens starting RT Patrick Mekari leaves game vs. Steelers with hand injury, could be out a few weeks

Ravens starting right tackle Patrick Mekari left in the third quarter of Sunday’s 20-19 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers and did not return.

After the game, coach John Harbaugh said the offensive lineman could be out a few weeks.

Mekari limped off the field in the second quarter, favoring his ankle. He was replaced by Tyre Phillips, but then returned the next series.

But Phillips took over at right tackle later in the third quarter, and the team said Mekari was doubtful to return with a hand injury.

Mekari injured his ankle against the Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 24 and missed nearly a month, including two games. He returned on Nov. 21 against the Bears in Chicago and played every snap last week against the Cleveland Browns.

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