Administrators seek extra opportunity for students
Santa Barbara Unified School District’s board met Tuesday evening for a special meeting planned as a COVID-19 update.
But a proposed grading policy prompted the most discussion.
Although the details are yet to be drafted, the proposed plan is to issue students “incomplete” and “no credit” marks on their report cards instead of tarnishing their transcript with a D or F. Students will get extra time to learn and bring their grade to a C level.
In elementary schools, teachers would be encouraged to contact parents and work with the students to cater a learning plan to them. While the plan would be implemented next semester for primary students, secondary students would see the plan by the end of the month.
Teachers chimed in to express concern for implementing a new grading policy just days before the semester ends.
“One big question that has been asked is ‘Why now?’ ‘Why the urgency this moment?’ First and foremost, you do the best you can until you know better. Now, we know better,” said Ana Escobedo, assistant superintendent of elementary education.
“Now our data has told us that we need to do better by our students,” she added. “And so having said that, we have been presented with the opportunity through COVID to launch into the 21st century something I believe we will thank COVID for one day.”
Administrators were concerned about the disproportionately high number of low marks in Latinx students, students with disabilities, socio-economically disadvantaged students, and Emergent Multilingual Learners.
Ms. Escobedo also noted that the elementary school report cards are not formatted to show the progression of English learners.
While public comments affirmed the intentions of administrators, they questioned the practicality of the plan.
“It’s missing that piece where we need to look at what is behind a child who is getting a D or an F and what are we going to do about it besides just giving them more time,” Caroline Harrah said. “What if any interventions will be offered to students to assist them in completing work and learning the material that they missed?”
Comments alluded that teachers wrote to board members with concerns about the policy. Two teachers spoke during the public-comment portion of the board meeting.
“My concern tonight is what’s best for my students right now, and I think what’s best for them is to have agency,” San Marcos High School teacher Kim Tilton said. “There are many students that should have the choice to receive a D if that’s what’s best for them.”
San Marcos High School teacher Aaron Solis was concerned he didn’t hear more communication from administrators prior to the board meeting.
“This is the end. This is like June grades. The finish line is there and 10 feet before the finish line, we’re moving. We’re moving the finish line, and that affects students and that affects teachers,” he said.
Board members asked how teachers were consulted. Superintendent Hilda Maldonado said a teacher advisory group was consulted with Tuesday afternoon.
“I want to make sure the teachers are part of the conversation and the teachers have a seat on the table, and that we are building bridges with the teachers, the frontline workers that their input is taken into consideration,” board member Virginia Alvarez said. “And maybe we’re already doing that, but I like to see that increased so that everybody’s voice is heard.”
Ms. Alvarez suggested that the district hire teachers to support students if they receive an “incomplete.” That way teachers, already overwhelmed with new classes, don’t have to take on the additional task.
“Perhaps there could be a way we do give the students additional time but take this burden away from the teachers, because they’re already moving forward to their new classes, their new students, and perhaps we can devote some funding so that we can have a teacher on special assignment at each school,” she said.
The district administration estimated it’d receive extra funding of around $450 per student from California’s Safe Schools for All plan.
To reopen school campuses, Santa Barbara County must reach a case rate at or below 28 cases per 100,000 population.
The district’s re-entry task force, which contains teachers, administrators and parents, will meet this week to adjust to the board’s criticism.
“We are taking the feedback and guidance that we received from our Board to look at our process, our action plan and our timeline and will be ready to share more detail in the coming days,” district spokesperson Camie Barnwell told the News-Press.
The next board meeting is at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 12. An agenda will be posted Friday.