Students in the Santa Barbara Unified School District can no longer receive an F on their transcripts.
The new grading policy was approved Tuesday night as a way to level the playing field for students struggling with distance learning throughout the pandemic. This was the second version of the policy, which came after backlash from the board and the public about also removing Ds from student transcripts.
“Thank you for the recalibration from a week ago; we landed on the right policy,” Boardmember Laura Capps said. “Those who are suffering the most already, who are the most marginalized, are going to have the deepest impacts. And you see that in grading…. It’s with a heavy heart that I support this policy because it reflects how severe, how devastating, and how deep the impact of this pandemic is on so many lives.”
The original policy only gave letter grades A-C. If students didn’t make a C grade or better, they would be given either an “incomplete” or a “no credit.” Many argued that students who are struggling need the Ds to graduate, so the district compromised by only eliminating F grades. Students will instead receive a “no credit,” meaning it won’t affect their GPA.
Socioeconomically disadvantaged students and Latino students have been hit the hardest by distance learning. There are 631 high school students out of 9,000 total secondary students who earned three or more Fs on their 2020-21 midterm progress reports. Of those 631 students, roughly 85 percent are Latino, though they make up 55 percent of the total district population. White students, by contrast, make up 35 percent of the population, but only 12 percent of earned three or more Fs. Similar disparities were seen at the elementary level and across other categories like English learners or students with disabilities.
“Working with first-generation youth, they have expressed how stressful virtual learning has become,” said Eva Catalan, the youth wellness coalition manager at Future Leaders of America. “We feel that teachers are giving them a lot of assignments in place of instruction; therefore, students are left teaching themselves the material and going to sleep past midnight to finish assignments.”
Catalan was one of about a dozen speakers Tuesday night, the majority of whom were high schoolers in the district. All of them urged the board to pass the new grading policy, with one student even saying that his grades have been penalized as a result of poor Wi-Fi rather than what he’s actually learned.
“When we see low grades, we should study them as a symptom of what the underlying challenges are,” said Shawn Carey, assistant superintendent of secondary education. Carey is one of the main administrators who created the policy. “The problem is not new; it did not start with the pandemic, although it was worsened by the pandemic.”
Because of community pushback last time, Carey surveyed district staff about grading. The survey, which had an 86 percent response rate, revealed that 80 percent of certified staff supported losing the F grade. She also surveyed students who are part of the student advisory group and received an overwhelming response in favor of eliminating the F grade.
Carey identified three best practices for grading. First, parents will be notified that their student is at risk of not passing their class ahead of time. Second, staff will provide students and their families with the opportunity to meet to discuss specific areas of concern. Third, targeted interventions must be offered and documented before giving a grade below a C- or a three in elementary school.
The new grading policy is effective January 19 until the hybrid learning program begins.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that 85 percent of all secondary Latino students earned three or more Fs. In fact, 85 percent of all 631 secondary students who earned three or more Fs are Latino.
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