California school districts revert to AF grades this fall – with more flexibility for some students

Photo: AP Photo / Jeff Chiu

Lila Nelson watches her son, Jayden Amacker, a Grade 6 student at Rise University Preparatory, watch an online course in his room at their home in San Francisco in April 2020.

While many high schools and colleges have adopted pass-fail rating at the start of the pandemic in order to protect students from adapting to distance education, districts largely reverted to the traditional A-to-F system.

But now that students are receiving their fall progress reports, it appears that in at least some districts, many students’ grades are dropping. Unified Superintendent of Los Angeles Austin Beutner announced Monday that the number of middle and high school students receiving D’s and F’s so far this year has increased compared to last year. In Sonoma County, the number of high school students failing in class is so much higher than in previous years that Steven Herrington, the county’s school principal, called a district chiefs summit last week to discuss the matter, and will meet again this Thursday.

According to Bay Area News Group, 37% of high school students in the county had at least one failing grade compared to 27% at the same time last year. The number of high school students at Healdsburg Unified who fail one of their classes, for example, has nearly doubled so far compared to fall 2019.

Several districts in the state have sought to avoid a drop in grades by amending their pre-pandemic grapolicies to give students flexibility to help them meet the challenges of home learning. In some districts, students will not be tied up for missing a class or submitting late work, and attendance will not be part of their grades. Others also do more to let parents know if a student is at risk of failing.

State law does not require districts to revert to alphabetical notes. The set of standards approved by the legislature in June only requires schools to track student participation and provide feedback to parents and guardians on students’ academic progress.

The return to letter grades this fall appears to have been influenced by the decision of the University of California and California State University to no longer accept pass / fail or credit / no notes the marks obtained by high school students this school year when or if they apply for admission.

Additionally, some educators claim that alphabetical notes have turned out to be a effective way to motivate students and assess how well they are proficient in a program.

The California Department of Education does not follow district rating policies, so it does not know how many districts have reverted to an AF rating system. However, California School Boards Association spokesperson Troy Flint said it appears almost every district in California that didn’t do AF rankings before is now doing so.

In spring, Neighborhoods advised by the CDE change their grading policies so that students do not receive lower grades than they were before the pandemic forced districts to close campuses. The idea was to offer relief to students who did not have proper access to technology for learning online, as well as those who struggle to keep up with their schoolwork while dealing with the stress of Covid. -19.

Some districts have kept the alphabetical grades for students the same as before, while other districts have eliminated the alphabetical grades in favor of pass / fail or credit / no credit systems.

For their part, the UC and CSU systems have agreed to accept pass / fail or credit / no credit. for winter, spring and summer 2020, including college preparation AG course sequence required for admission into university systems. But this waiver ended at the close of the last school year, and UC and CSU chose not to extend it.

UC officials haven’t explained why they made the decision, but said they might consider reinstating the waiver depending on how the pandemic is further disrupting education. CSU spokesman Michael Uhlenkamp said they were not extending the waiver to this year because schools had time during the summer to prepare for virtual education and work with it. teachers on grading. CSU also wanted to align with the University of California system, he said.

With pass / fail grading essentially off the table, some districts are adjusting their grading policies and teacher guidelines for this year to minimize the impact on student reports.

West Contra Costa Unified decided in September not penalize students for late work or unexcused absences; Unified San Diego adopted a similar policy on October 13. Long Beach Unified has called on its teachers to keep homework to a minimum, not grade it, and not give an F on homework, although the district allows teachers at grading discretion.

We are trying to work within the AF system to create as much flexibility as possible, ”West Contra Costa Unified Superintendent Matthew Duffy said at the September school board meeting in which the new grading policy was taken. been approved.

Teachers in many districts, including West Contra Costa Unified, are giving written feedback instead of letter grades for kindergarten, kindergarten and transition elementary students.

Teachers will accept work within five days of the due date without penalty; students can also advocate for more time with their teachers. Teachers will also not give “zero” marks for missing work – instead, the work will be marked “missing” until it is completed.

Audra “Golddie” Williams, whose child is in her final year at El Cerrito High School, told the meeting that she “very much appreciates” the protections because her child and others are under stress. they have never known before.

In the spring, Los Angeles Unified – the largest school district in the state – adopted a policy ensuring that no student received an “F” grade and that student grades did not drop below what they were. at the start of the school year. pandemic.

This year, the “F” ratings are back on the table, but under certain conditions. A teacher must make several attempts to contact the pupil and his family to offer him remedial homework, additional tutoring or other academic support. The teacher should also work with academic advisers or other school staff and consult with the school site administrator before giving an “F”.

The Newport-Mesa School District, which serves the towns of Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, also removed failure grades in the spring. In their system, students would get either an A, a B, or a C or an “incomplete” and would have the option of catching up on credit over the summer. This year, the district reinstated the Ds and Fs, said district spokesperson Annette Franco.

The district is also calling on teachers to “show grace” when it comes to grading students, Franco said, but is leaving it up to teachers.

Some districts have also removed “class participation” from their scoring criteria.

“We don’t think it’s appropriate – and we haven’t really thought it appropriate in the past – to say ‘your grades will be based on your participation, how often you raise your hand,’ said Duffy from West Contra Costa. “We want this term to be as much about mastery as possible, and all of these extenuating circumstances happening right now shouldn’t be a factor in your grade.”

San Francisco Unified had already reduced attendance and other “items that are not a direct measure of knowledge and understanding of course content” of teacher grading criteria in 2017, spokeswoman Laura Dudnik said . These factors include attendance, effort, student conduct and work habits, depending on the policy. However, the district still encourages teachers to give their opinion on these factors, Dudnik said.

As reports come in that students are doing less well this fall than last year, at least as measured by grades, districts may need to reconsider their grading policies, or at least use the grades. information to suggest strategies to more directly determine why more students are failing.

Susan Brookhart, professor emeritus at Duquesne University and author of several books on scoring and assessment, said that “learning-oriented practices” such as removal of attendance and other assessments of “l Students’ ‘effort’ is critical during the pandemic, which has “shed light” on practices that previously didn’t work. She said it should be noted whether a student gets to work on time or participates in class, but the purpose of the grades should reflect how well they meet learning standards.

Two students might end up with the same level of achievement at the end of the year, she said, but one might take longer to have an “ah-ha” moment.

“Stress is hard to measure and easy to simulate for kids who look like they have a pencil in their hand but their mind is out the window,” said Brookhart. “It’s hard enough to observe the effort accurately when teachers are face to face with students. With distance learning, you don’t see how hard they’ve tried an assignment.

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