Taft enrollment up, new grading policy planned
by BRIAN NADIG
Enrollment at Taft High School could soon surpass 4,000 students and the school is planning to implement a new grading policy in which students would not be able to score less than 50 percent on any test or assignment.
"We are the fifth largest high school in Illinois," principal Mark Grishaber said at the Sept. 8 virtual meeting of the Taft High School Local School Council. Taft has a varsity campus at 6530 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. and the freshman academy at 4071 N. Oak Park Ave.
Taft trails only Lane Tech High School in the city, which has about 4,500 students, and statewide Waukegan High School tops the list with about 4,600 students.
Taft’s enrollment is at 3,988 students, but Grishaber said after the meeting that Taft is about 50 students shy of moving up to fourth on the list and that he would not be surprised if the enrollment this fall hits that mark. He predicted Taft’s enrollment will "top out" at about 4,200 in the fall of 2021.
Taft’s enrollment has been growing in recent years, up more than 700 students since 2014, leading to the opening of the freshman campus in the fall of 2019. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Taft’s enrollment was around 3,000, as freshmen had to attend classes at Norwood Park School.
The recent enrollment increase allowed Taft to receive additional funding for about 260 students. If the allocation of those funds had been delayed the school would have been forced to hold off on hiring some of its new 32 teachers, Grishaber said.
The school is receiving the "best of the best" applicants for teaching positions in part because Taft is a growing school that can offer job security, Grishaber said. "I wouldn’t want to have to interview against any of them," he said, adding that the school received about 1,500 applications.
In all, the school has 223 teachers and 93 staff members. "We have great teachers here who are accepting the challenge (of remote learning)," Grishaber said.
It also was reported that the school is moving toward a new grading system that would set the lowest grade on an assignment or test at 50 percent, instead of the current scale that allows for an "F," or failing grade, to range from zero to 59 percent.
The grading scale for "A" (90 to 100 percent), "B" (80 to 89 percent), "C" (70 to 79 percent) and "D" (60 to 69 percent) would remain unchanged, but "F" would become 50 to 59 percent. The lowest score any student can get is 50 percent.
Grishaber told the LSC that if a student fails to turn in one assignment or struggles on just one test, the current grading system could set them back so far that even passing the class could become difficult.
"That zero percent ‘F’ weighs them down so heavily. … You get kids who mathematically can’t pass a class," he said. "You have one assignment or exam at zero percent and another at 100 percent, it averages to 50 percent, an ‘F,’ he said. "Now it’s 50 and 100 percent, a ‘C’… It helps keep them in the game and gives them more motivation."
Grishaber added that the new system would address equity issues, as Hispanic, Black and diverse learner students have been failing a disproportionate number of classes.
In the first semester of last school year, Hispanic students had 50 percent of the school’s failing class grades even though they made up about 40 percent of the enrollment, Grishaber said. Also, diverse learner students had 21 percent of the failing class grades (12 percent of the enrollment), and Black students had 4 percent of the failing grades (3 percent of the enrollment), he said.
It also was reported that the school is forming a Committee on Anti-Racist Education, which will look at ways to implement race-related topics throughout the curriculum.
Also at the meeting, it was announced that the student fee is being reduced from $450 to $300 for this school year due to the economic challenges facing many families during the pandemic but is expected to return to $450 next year.
Taft also has designed and piloted an online platform that will make it easier for eligible families to register for the federal free- and reduced-lunch program. The platform will be available to all Chicago schools, Grishaber said.
"You give to kids the form, and some (registration forms) are not going to make it home," Grishaber said of the paper process.
Taft receives about $980 for each student in the program, and the new registration process could generate as much as an additional $400,000 in discretionary funds for the school next year, Grishaber said. Currently Taft gets about $1.5 million from the program.
Taft LSC chairwoman Kathy Fern reported that students this month would be electing an interim student representative to serve on the council.
The next LSC meeting will be held virtually at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13.