District explores equitable grading policies
The board of the Santa Barbara Unified School District permitted secondary campuses to reopen when the county reaches the red tier.
Susan Klein-Rothschild, Santa Barbara County Public Health Department school liaison, estimated the county will be in the red tier “within the next week or two.” Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, director of the Public Health Department, said Tuesday that the county could be in the red tier as soon as Friday.
Additionally, all school staff members should be able to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the month.
The district’s COVID-19 safety plan has been accepted by public health officials.
“We are ready and waiting,” Shawn Carey, assistant superintendent of secondary education, said regarding reopening.
A total 69.5% of secondary students plan to return to campus when it reopens.
Board member Laura Capps inquired if both elementary and secondary schools can open campuses Wednesdays, alternating the two cohorts each week.
Previously, Wednesdays were set aside as a day to deep clean the classrooms, but recent health and safety guidance does not tie the spread of COVID-19 to hard surfaces.
Administrators expressed hesitancy toward adopting the idea quickly.
“There’s been so many changes already that our teachers and parents have had to deal with, so we want to be very mindful and thoughtful of how we roll out this next stage,” said Ana Escobedo, assistant superintendent of elementary education.
Students with acute needs (who have been on campus in small cohorts) will be on campus Wednesdays regardless.
Next week, seventh- and ninth-grade students and students recently enrolled in the district can participate in campus orientation activities.
A majority of the meeting was spent discussing grading policies. Joe Feldman, founder and CEO of Crescendo Education Group, and Mark Boswell, an associate at Crescendo Education Group, joined administrators in a presentation to the board.
Mr. Feldman is the author of “Grading for Equity: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How It Can Transform Schools and Classrooms,” which was published by Corwin in 2018.
A cumulative 76% of white elementary students and 92% of Latino students within SB Unified received low marks in three or more subject areas.
In secondary schools, 21% of white students receive Ds or Fs contrasted with 50% of Latino students.
The district began looking at the grading policies in January after seeing students scoring lower marks.
“The same considerations and principles and pillars apply whether we’re in a pandemic or not,” Mr. Feldman said.
He suggested a slow transition to a new grading system, as to not alienate teachers.
Ms. Carey cautioned board members not to be intimidated by the long-term commitment.
“It’s an urgent journey,” she said. “Because once we know better, we can do better. And that is the spirit of the objectives of the board study session.”
Mr. Feldman explained some consequences of traditional grading methods.
“Our inherited grading systems actually reward students with resources and privilege and punish those without, and it actually makes it harder for students with less privilege in becoming successful,” Mr. Feldman told the board.
The grades then impact students well into the future.
“Because grades will affect our students’ employment status, work permits, insurance rates, college acceptance, financial aid, now what we’re actually talking about is students we’re not just affecting. Now we’re affecting family income,” Mr. Boswell said.
The district surveyed its secondary certificated staff in January to hear their opinions on grading policies. A total of 436 teachers responded, or 86%.
Of those who answered, 80% supported the replacement of F grades with “no credit,” and 61% supported exploring a four-point grading scale.
The district’s slides do not identify the percentage of teachers in favor of removing D grades or replacing 0s with 50s, though officials said a majority were against these policies.
The classroom has changed, from desks to books, but grading has remained the same for decades, Mr. Boswell said.
“We’ve moved so much farther ahead in teaching and learning, but it’s still the same grading practices,” Mr. Feldman said.
He suggested moving away from a system with many variables that allows teachers’ biases (that he acknowledges as well-meaning).
After the district began discussing the grading policy in January, a few teachers changed their practices.
Jan Ferrer, a teacher at Goleta Valley Junior High School, shifted to mastery grading on a four-point scale.
“I utilize mastery grading practices because these practices encourage students to be lifelong learners to understand that learning and growth, rather than singular grades themselves, matter,” she said.
Kortnie Cruz, a teacher at Dos Pueblos High School, focuses on developing skills and providing measurable goals for students to meet.
“More can be done to support the teachers because they’re the ones that have to sit and do this,” said Rose Muñoz, board vice president.
Board President Kate Ford appreciated a four-point scale, citing her background in education.
“Not only are they going to be great for kids, but they’re going to be great for teachers. Because I think back on all the hundred-page papers I tried to grade, they probably didn’t need to get graded; they just needed to get an idea of how these students were doing,” she said.
She expects further discussion at a later date.
The board will meet next at 6:30 p.m. March 16 via Zoom.