California Schools Face Backlash for Eliminating ‘D’ and ‘F’ Grades

by Chris Haney
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The Covid-19 pandemic brings multiple challenges to school systems across the country. You can’t please all parents, but some divisive curriculum decisions receive more backlash than others.

Schools in Los Angeles, Santa Ana, Oakland Unified, Sacramento City Unified and other California districts are eliminating “D” and “F” grades from their assessments. The policy is an attempt to reengage students who have struggled with test scores since last year.

Assistant principal Nidya Baez works at Fremont High School in Oakland. She recently spoke with Bay City News about the change in grading. The grading policy is now considered “mastery” or “competency-based” learning.

“Our hope is that students begin to see school as a place of learning. [A place] where they can take risks and learn from mistakes, instead of a place of compliance,” Baez explained.

“Right now, we have a system where we give a million points for a million pieces of paper that students turn in, without much attention to what they’re actually learning,” Baez added.

The new policy is utilized across California high schools, with districts beginning to phase out anything below a “C.” Additionally, students who fail exams or don’t complete homework are receiving alternative options. The schools are allowing extensions and also allowing students to retake exams.

California Education Partners’ Steven Keller defended the policy that some perceive as “coddling.” He says it allows students time to master the material, or get the support they need if they haven’t.

“What mastery learning does is really allow students every opportunity to show that they know the material. And if they don’t know the material, to get the support they need to be able to demonstrate it,” Kellner says.

California Educators Disagree on Schools’ New Grading Policies

The controversial grading policies aren’t exclusive to schools in the Golden State. In October, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio proposed similar policies that relaxed grading standards because of the pandemic. The new grading policies have divided parents’ opinions in multiple states. Many say the policy goes too far, while others think it’s an important initiative.

In addition, many educators in various schools disagree with the policy as well. Debora Rinehart at St. Theresa School in Oakland, a math and science teacher, is against the initiative. She thinks the policy favors students’ feelings instead of academic success.

“I will never lie about [students’] knowledge level,” Rinehart shared. “Not reporting ‘D’s and ‘F’s is the equivalent of lying about a student’s progress.” She added that if schools do away with the grading standards, it could lead to grade inflation.

On the other hand, the new policy also has plenty of advocates at schools in California. They point to the fact that grades plummeted while utilizing virtual learning in the last couple years. Also, alternative educators worry that the traditional grading system in schools could impact students’ self-esteem.

Mastery Transcript Consortium is a nonprofit that works with numerous school districts. The organization advises schools and universities on grading alternatives. The head of Mastery Transcript Consortium Patricia Russell shared her opinion on the new policy.

“We’re talking about people who are very young. And labeling them at such an early age as ‘less than’ or ‘more than’ can have significant psychological repercussions,” Russell said. “Some things in life are zero-sum games, but learning should not be.”

Outsider.com