Students in the Mountain View Los Altos High School District won't be receiving letter grades this semester.
Instead, their performance for the semester will be indicated one of two ways: credit or no credit.
After a vigorous debate, and despite some opposition from parents and students, the district's board voted 4-1 on April 6 in favor of switching to a credit-no credit system, which will give students credit for their coursework but not count toward their GPAs.
The discussion highlighted widespread concerns and arguments in favor of both keeping a letter grading system and switching to a credit-no credit system.
"Moving toward (a) credit-no credit option is probably the most equitable policy for this semester, and this semester only," said Board President Sanjay Dave.
The measure was opposed by board member Phil Faillace, who preferred to see a hybrid system, in which students who perform well would be able to receive a grade letter equivalent, and those who don't wouldn't receive a penalty to their GPAs.
He raised concerns that eliminating the in-progress grades students earned during the first half of the semester would penalize the students who had good grades going into the pandemic, as well as those who had been hard at work to improve them.
Many parents, in public comments, argued that their students deserve to be rewarded for the hard work they've already put into the semester and offered the traditional incentive of a letter grade to keep working hard under trying circumstances.
But ultimately, considering the shortcomings of the current online teaching system; the assurances of many universities to show flexibility toward students with their winter, spring and summer grades this year; the significant baseline inequities students experience in their home lives; and the unprecedented circumstances created by the global pandemic, a majority of the board members voted in favor of the credit-no credit option.
There are major shortcomings with switching the pedagogical model for high school overnight – or, more accurately, over the course of a week – from the classroom to online learning, explained David Campbell, president of the district's teachers association.
To start, teachers aren't even confident there's an adequate platform lined up for them to administer tests to their students in an equitable way that ensures the test's integrity, Campbell said.
"I've never trained to be an online teacher," he said "I can't give my best right now because I'm working in a medium I haven't been trained to work in."
Using Zoom to work with students, especially in an unruly class, can create its own challenges. Some teachers have been recorded against their wishes and the footage made into humorous videos with voices dubbed over them, he said. That represents a violation of privacy and of the education code, which prevents teachers from being recorded unless they wish to be, he said.
And some classes just won't translate well to online learning, like ceramics or technical programs, Campbell noted.
Many universities have announced that they're lifting some of their admissions requirements for students seeking to enroll in the fall and later years as applicable.
The Regents of the University of California acted on March 31 to adopt some new short-term policies to ease pressure on students while school is so altered. The U.C. regents have lifted the letter grade requirement on its so-called "A-G" courses for the winter, spring and summer of 2020 for all students, including those admitted as freshmen for the coming fall, and will accept alternate pass-fail or credit-no credit alternatives. The university system also lifted the standardized testing requirement for students applying for admission in Fall 2021. Students are now expected to submit final transcripts by July 1.
“The goal of these changes is to ensure a fair process that does not affect the life chances of students who, but for the coronavirus pandemic, would have become full-time students at the University of California,” said Kum-Kum Bhavnani, chair of the Academic Senate in a press statement.
The California State University (CSU) system will also be accepting a grade of "credit" or "pass" instead of a letter grade for courses that meet "A-G" requirements and will not include those toward high school GPA calculations, according to a memo from the university system's office of the chancellor.
For students worried about future college applications, Superintendent Nellie Meyer said it's likely that universities will want to know how they're making the most of this unprecedented time.
"We have students grocery shopping for others. We have students creating masks. We have students reflecting on their priorities, families and health," she said. "Those are the kind of things, also, we want to emphasize."
But even beyond the fact that universities appear to be flexible and understanding of the current circumstances for high school students, another reason to switch to the credit-no credit system, Meyer argued, is that many students no longer have the classroom as a space to help mediate some of the existing inequities that exist in students' home lives, whether that's access to internet and a laptop, or even just a safe, quiet place to study.
"We're no longer in the classroom," she said. "When you are in the classroom you can provide more equitable services."
As it is, said board member Debbie Torok, "We're not playing on equal fields here."
"We really have to consider the trauma that this is causing to everyone, adults and youth alike," said Margarita Navarro, associate superintendent. "We are not interacting with the rest of the world as we typically do."
In other news
The Los Altos High School Talon reports that Prom at Los Altos High School has been rescheduled for Friday, Aug. 7, and may be postponed until Wednesday, Nov. 26, if the shelter-at-home order is still in effect in August. The high school's senior picnic has been canceled and the ticket price will be credited toward the purchase of a Prom ticket, students report.