School board discusses grade accommodations during pandemic
The Santa Maria Joint Union High School District is considering three revisions to its grading policies to assist students during distance learning.
The district’s board discussed the change Tuesday evening and will take action in an upcoming board meeting.
If approved, the proposed changes would only apply to the spring 2021 semester.
The first revision suggested by the district is a competency-based grading system for year-long classes. If students earn a better grade in the second semester, the grade will also apply to the fall semester.
Administrators asked teacher groups what they thought. Not all teachers were in favor of the policy, but there was a “level of support,” John Davis, assistant superintendent of curriculum, said in his presentation to the board.
Allan Hancock College is currently reviewing whether it would accept the new grades for dual-credit courses.
“I think the sticking point becomes if there is a teacher does not believe that the fall grade should be changed and a policy mandates that they be changed, then we’re looking at some gray area with the ed code because the ed code does provide the support for the teacher to be the one who determines the actual grade,” Mr. Davis told the board.
For short, elective courses, the district suggested continuing a “no mark” and “incomplete” grading system currently utilized by some of the district’s teachers. It would save students’ GPAs from the burden of a low grade.
“A ‘no’ mark could potentially really help that student by allowing them to shift their focus to the core academic classes that they know they need and not necessarily have to worry about that particular elective class,” Mr. Davis said.
Last semester, several hundred incompletes were given, he said.
The third alteration is lowering the graduation requirements on a case-by-case basis for students at risk of dropping out.
The district’s current requirement is 220 credits for all high schools except Delta, the alternative school with 205 credits required. The state minimum is 180 credits for high schools and 165 credits for alternative schools.
The board can reject all of the ideas or choose up to all three in a future meeting.
“While a portion of students have the resources to thrive in this environment, the majority of students are facing any number of burdens and struggles,” Alex Espinoza-Kulick, social and behavioral sciences professor at Allan Hancock College, said in a public comment.
“This policy should take into account the mental, financial and personal circumstances they are currently facing due to distance learning and the COVID-19 pandemic. Grades should not punish students for their situation in an unprecedented time, and wide-ranging F grades will have negative effects on a student’s ability to advance in their lives through scholarships and college,” he said.
A handful of Future Leaders of America students also commented with their perspectives.
“Some teachers are really inconsiderate of students’ situations and will assign five assignments due at the same day at the same time. I know they’ll have some time given in class, but what about the kids who have to care for siblings or parents because they are the only person old enough to be trusted around a stove? They have to balance their home life with what the teacher is teaching at the moment,” Jessica Rodriguez, Pioneer Valley High School student and Future Leaders of America member, said.
The next regular meeting of the board is March 9, but the superintendent may call a special meeting to amend the semester’s grading strategy prior to that date.