The Weight of Grades

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Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD) is holding an emergency meeting on Thursday, April 23 to determine the grading policies for the spring semester that was abruptly halted by COVID-19 stay at home orders. Students across the United States and locally in Santa Barbara have been forced into remote learning situations and trying to make the most out of their circumstances. One of the proposals that the SBUSD is considering is allowing certain students who opt-in to receive letter grades. Receiving letter grades not only disregards the fact that not all students have the same level playing field of having a strong internet connection and a computing device, it exacerbates class and racial inequalities.

Most students of color have parents that are low-income essential workers who don’t have the luxury of being able to work remotely from home. This causes an avalanche of issues from having to be the caretaker of their younger siblings and elderly relatives concurrently while not having the necessary tools to be able to work at home remotely. Conditions are even more dire for families in the county who have faced layoffs and unemployment not knowing where their next meal is coming from. When it comes to the hierarchy of needs, for these students, grades are secondary.

Even though proponents of offering the option to opt-in/out to receiving a letter grade suggest that this is the best of both worlds, it is not. Consider this: there are two students who are taking an advanced high school course and both have similar trajectories towards college. One student’s family situation is not impacted by the pandemic and has the necessary resources to work from home. The other student comes from a family whose income has been slashed in half, and they have to care for their siblings while trying to be a student with spotty internet and a borrowed tablet. The first student would benefit from opting in to receiving a letter grade. The second student, through no fault of their own, will choose the option to receive credit because their current life circumstances doesn’t allow them to achieve at high levels. It would be unfair to the second student to allow their classmate to accumulate weighted grade points toward college admission because both students no longer have the same level playing field in the classroom. During these unprecedented times, allowing some students to receive letter grades who have better situations while their counterpart struggles through no fault of their own would worsen both class and racial inequalities.

We urge the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Education to take a stance by adopting a Credit/No Credit only policy.

Eder Gaona-Macedo is executive director of Future Leaders of America.

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