Kate Ford | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

The urgent need to accurately grade students during the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the Santa Barbara Unified School District into uncharted territory. After grappling with the issue for two weeks, district staff will present a final recommendation for the school board on Thursday — and it’s not what some expected.

The proposal, released just 24 hours before the meeting, gives high school students the option to either take a credit/no credit grade as the default or to take a traditional letter grade for individual courses. Though the state Department of Education has given several other options, one of the most considered is a credit/no credit–only approach that doesn’t allow for letter grades.

The issue has cast a spotlight on the inequities among families in the district. While some students may have access to a better home-learning environment, others may be less prepared to achieve high grades, forcing them to take a credit grade rather than an ‘A’ they could have otherwise earned before the pandemic began.

“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,” said Eder Gaona-Macedo, the executive director of Future Leaders of America. “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.”

Gaona-Macedo said he is against the proposal to choose for that reason.

“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,” he continued.

Although all public universities state-wide have already committed to allowing credit/no credit transcripts for high school applicants, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will accept them over another student with letter grades.

But many parents contend that their child worked hard for their grades and deserve the choice. School boardmember Kate Ford said the board has received dozens of letters on the topic and will vote in favor of the choice proposal. 

“Right now young people have so few choices about their lives. They can’t see their friends; they can’t go to school,” Ford said. “I really like this proposal for the fact that it gives them a choice and for the motivating factor.”

Ford has extensive education experience, including as a secondary teacher for 13 years, a principal for 20 years (including five years at Peabody Elementary), and as a Los Angeles superintendent for five years. She said that in her lifelong experience as an educator, nothing is more motivating for students than grades, which is also why she strongly supports the proposal.

“I really hope this board votes unanimously for this proposal as presented,” she said.

The proposal assesses student work as of March 13. Any student work evaluated after that date can only improve students’ grades but cannot harm them. The proposal also recommends elementary schools not issue report cards for Trimester 3 (June 2020) and instead give feedback for students and families. For middle schools, it suggests that they operate under credit/no credit only.

The discussion will take place virtually on Thursday, April 23, at 7:15 p.m. via Zoom; the link can be accessed here.


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