Photo: AP Photo / Jeff Chiu

Lila Nelson watches as her son Jayden Amacker, 6th grade at Rise University Preparatory, watches an online class in his room in her San Francisco home in April 2020.

Photo: AP Photo / Jeff Chiu

Lila Nelson watches as her son Jayden Amacker, 6th grade at Rise University Preparatory, watches an online class in his room in her San Francisco home in April 2020.

While many high schools and middle schools introduced pass-fail grading at the start of the pandemic to keep students harmless as they adapt to distance learning, the districts have largely reverted to the traditional A-to-F system.

But now that students are receiving their fall progress reports, it seems like many student grades are slipping in at least some districts. Los Angeles United Superintendent Austin Beutner announced Monday that the number of middle and high school students receiving Ds and Fs so far this year has increased year over year. Sonoma County’s failure to pass classes is so much higher than in previous years that County Schools superintendent Steven Herrington convened a district leaders summit last week to discuss the issue and himself will meet again this Thursday.

According to the Bay Area News Group, 37% of students in the county had at least one failed class, compared with 27% at the same time last year. The number of students at Healdsburg Unified who failed one of their classes, for example, has almost doubled compared to autumn 2019.

Several counties across the state have tried to change grades to avoid falling gradesir prepandemic graGuidelines to give students some leeway to face the challenges of home study. In some districts, students will not be docked due to missing class or late work, and attendance will not be part of their grades. Others also do more to notify parents when a student is in danger of failure.

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State law does not require counties to revert to letter notes. Under the standards approved by lawmakers in June, all schools need to do is track student participation and provide feedback to parents and guardians on students’ academic progress.

This fall’s return to letter notes appears to have been influenced by the decision by the University of California and California State University to stop accepting Pass / Fail or Credit / No CreditIt will be assessed by students that school year when or when they apply for admission.

Some educators also say that letter grades have been shown to be one effective way to motivate students and assess how well they are doing a curriculum.

The California Department of Education does not follow district assessment guidelines and therefore does not know how many districts have returned to an AF assessment system. However, Troy Flint, spokesman for the California School Boards Association, said it seems like almost every district in California that previously didn’t do an AF grading is now doing so.

In the spring, CDE advised districts to change their assessment guidelines so that students don’t get grades lower than they did before the pandemic that forced districts to close campuses. The idea was to provide relief to students who did not have adequate access to the technology to study online, as well as those who had difficulty keeping up with their schoolwork while dealing with stress related to Covid-19 procure.

Some districts retained the student letter grades they had previously earned, while other districts removed the letter grades in favor of pass / fail or credit / no-credit systems.

The UC and CSU systems in turn agreed to accept Pass / Fail or Credit / No Credit for winter, spring and summer 2020, including the course sequence of the college preparatory group required for admission to the higher education system. But this waiver ended in the end of the final school year, and UC and CSU decided not to extend it.

UC officials wouldn’t explain why they made that decision, but they said they might consider reintroducing the waiver depending on how the pandemic continues to disrupt education. CSU spokesman Michael Uhlenkamp said that they will not extend the waiver to this year as the schools had time in the summer to prepare for the virtual lessons and work with the teachers on the grading. The CSU also wanted to adapt to the system of the University of California, he said.

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

West Contra Costa Unified decided in September not to penalize students for late work or unexcused absences. San Diego Unified passed a similar policy on October 13th. Long Beach Unified has encouraged teachers to keep homework to a minimum, not grade it, and not give Fs on assignments, although the district gives teachers discretion in grading.

We are trying to work within the AF system to allow as much flexibility as possible, ”said Matthew Duffy, Superintendent of West Contra Costa Unified, at the September school council meeting at which the new assessment policy was approved.

Teachers in many districts, including West Contra Costa Unified, provide written feedback instead of grades for transitional kindergartens, kindergartens, and elementary school students.

Teachers accept the work within five days of the due date without penalty. Students can also commit to spending more time with their teachers. Teachers also do not give “zero” grades for missing work – instead, work is marked “missing” until completion.

Audra “Golddie” Williams, whose child is a senior at El Cerrito High School, said at the meeting that she “values ​​protection very much” as her child and others experience stress they have never experienced before.

In the spring, Los Angeles Unified – the largest school district in the state – passed a policy to ensure that no students receive an “F” grade and that the grades of the students are not lower than at the beginning of the Pandemic school year.

This year the “F” grades are back on the table, but with conditions. A teacher must make multiple attempts to contact the student and their family to offer makeup assignments, additional tutoring, or other academic assistance. The teacher must also work with academic advisors or other school staff and contact the school administrator before issuing an “F”.

The Newport Mesa School District, which serves the cities of Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, also took bad grades in the spring. In their system, students would get either an A, B, or C, or an “incomplete” one, and be given the opportunity to recoup the credit over the summer. This year the district reinstated Ds and Fs, said district spokeswoman Annette Franco.

The district also urges teachers to “show some grace” when it comes to grading students, Franco said, but leave it up to teachers how to do it.

Some districts have also removed “class attendance” from their evaluation criteria.

“We don’t think it’s appropriate – and we haven’t really thought it appropriate in the past – to say,” Your grades depend on how much you attend and how often you raise your hand, “he told West Contra’s Duffy Costa: “We want as much as possible to be said about the championship in this term and all of these attenuating circumstances that are about to arise should not be a factor in your note.”

San Francisco Unified had already removed participation and other “elements that are not a direct measure of the knowledge and understanding of course content” from the evaluation criteria of the teachers in 2017, said spokeswoman Laura Dudnik. These factors include attendance, effort, student behavior, and work habits according to guidelines. However, the district continues to encourage teachers to provide feedback on these factors, Dudnik said.

With reports coming in that students are doing worse this fall than last year, districts, based on grades at least, may need to reconsider their assessment guidelines, or at least use the information to develop strategies to more directly determine why more students are failures.

Susan Brookhart, professor emeritus at Duquesne University and author of several books on grading and assessment, said that “learning-oriented practices” like removing attendance and other assessments of student “effort” during the pandemic “shine a light”, are essential. on practices that didn’t work before. She said whether a student is on time for work or attending class should be considered, but the purpose of the grades should be a reflection of how well they are meeting learning standards.

Two students could achieve the same level of proficiency by the end of the year, she said, but one could take longer to have an “ah-ha” moment.

“The effort is hard to measure and for kids who look like they have pencils in hand but their thoughts are out the window,” said Brookhart. “It is difficult enough to watch the effort closely when teachers face students. In distance learning, you don’t see how hard they tried to do a task. “

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