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Guest opinion: Why I voted in favor of implementing a credit-no credit grading system in MVLA schools this semester

Last Monday, the Mountain View Los Altos High School District board convened a special meeting to decide on grading for this spring semester due to the closure of on-site education at our schools.

The decision to change grading policy due to the COVID-19 pandemic is being done by all school districts in the Bay Area, and many throughout the country. Most, if not all of the Bay Area districts, are choosing the mandatory credit/no credit option. This does not imply the board’s decision was correct, but that it aligns with other districts in the Bay Area and allows our students to compete on a level playing field with other students in the Bay Area.

The following rationale for my vote affirming this policy is my opinion only and does not necessarily represent the MVLA district, the MVLA board or other MVLA trustees. Other options I considered were to keep the status quo or some type of hybrid grading policy. The issue with the status quo in this situation is that there will be variability in how distance learning is affecting students and teachers, creating new inequities in students' learning ability that our district would need to understand or make an allowance for. An allowance could come in the form of a hybrid grading system, where students could choose either credit/no credit or a letter grade for each class. I preferred this option initially because I thought it provided an allowance for students who thought they didn’t achieve their best to not be harmed by a letter grade they didn’t think they deserved.

However, as I looked into this option further, I noticed a few flaws. One, that it allows a situation where GPAs could be unfairly inflated. For example, if a student has a mix of honors, AP and regular classes, and they choose only letter grades for the honors and AP classes and credit for the regular classes, their GPA would be unfairly inflated. This is true even if students don’t have honors and AP classes and in an unweighted system. A tweak to this option would be to not have spring semester grades counted toward GPA, but this would require a substantive change to the district’s internal system.

Another flaw is we truly don’t know how colleges, scholarships and financial aid programs will interpret differences between students with letter grades and credit. This is not to state that school is only about GPA and grades (it’s not), but I don’t want to introduce a flawed system as a knee-jerk reaction to the situation we’re in. I understand it is not only about demonstrating a strong academic performance, but that grades are a motivating factor, which I do believe. Nonetheless, the issue, again, is equity in publishing grades for the reasons cited above.

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Students can find other means to motivate themselves, and I’m certain our teachers will rise up to the challenge of providing a strong education for each of them. In looking at the big picture, a student’s academic performance is not about a single semester, but their performance throughout their high school years. Now and up until the class of at least 2023, many students will have an asterisk on their 2020 spring semester transcript, reminding colleges to take the COVID-19 pandemic into consideration when evaluating them.

Sanjay Dave is president of the Mountain View Los Altos High School District school board.

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Guest opinion: Why I voted in favor of implementing a credit-no credit grading system in MVLA schools this semester

by /

Uploaded: Sat, Apr 11, 2020, 1:48 pm

Last Monday, the Mountain View Los Altos High School District board convened a special meeting to decide on grading for this spring semester due to the closure of on-site education at our schools.

The decision to change grading policy due to the COVID-19 pandemic is being done by all school districts in the Bay Area, and many throughout the country. Most, if not all of the Bay Area districts, are choosing the mandatory credit/no credit option. This does not imply the board’s decision was correct, but that it aligns with other districts in the Bay Area and allows our students to compete on a level playing field with other students in the Bay Area.

The following rationale for my vote affirming this policy is my opinion only and does not necessarily represent the MVLA district, the MVLA board or other MVLA trustees. Other options I considered were to keep the status quo or some type of hybrid grading policy. The issue with the status quo in this situation is that there will be variability in how distance learning is affecting students and teachers, creating new inequities in students' learning ability that our district would need to understand or make an allowance for. An allowance could come in the form of a hybrid grading system, where students could choose either credit/no credit or a letter grade for each class. I preferred this option initially because I thought it provided an allowance for students who thought they didn’t achieve their best to not be harmed by a letter grade they didn’t think they deserved.

However, as I looked into this option further, I noticed a few flaws. One, that it allows a situation where GPAs could be unfairly inflated. For example, if a student has a mix of honors, AP and regular classes, and they choose only letter grades for the honors and AP classes and credit for the regular classes, their GPA would be unfairly inflated. This is true even if students don’t have honors and AP classes and in an unweighted system. A tweak to this option would be to not have spring semester grades counted toward GPA, but this would require a substantive change to the district’s internal system.

Another flaw is we truly don’t know how colleges, scholarships and financial aid programs will interpret differences between students with letter grades and credit. This is not to state that school is only about GPA and grades (it’s not), but I don’t want to introduce a flawed system as a knee-jerk reaction to the situation we’re in. I understand it is not only about demonstrating a strong academic performance, but that grades are a motivating factor, which I do believe. Nonetheless, the issue, again, is equity in publishing grades for the reasons cited above.

Students can find other means to motivate themselves, and I’m certain our teachers will rise up to the challenge of providing a strong education for each of them. In looking at the big picture, a student’s academic performance is not about a single semester, but their performance throughout their high school years. Now and up until the class of at least 2023, many students will have an asterisk on their 2020 spring semester transcript, reminding colleges to take the COVID-19 pandemic into consideration when evaluating them.

Sanjay Dave is president of the Mountain View Los Altos High School District school board.

Comments

MVLA Parent
Cuesta Park
on Apr 13, 2020 at 2:39 pm
MVLA Parent, Cuesta Park
on Apr 13, 2020 at 2:39 pm
21 people like this

MVLA conducted a survey to gauge community opinions on the grading policy. I have not seen the results of that survey. Have the results been released somewhere?


MVLA parent
Monta Loma
on Apr 13, 2020 at 3:10 pm
MVLA parent, Monta Loma
on Apr 13, 2020 at 3:10 pm
19 people like this

There is also an ongoing Petition created by a LAHS student, asking the board to reverse it's decision. If you are a taxpayer, parent, or student you can sign the petition here: Web Link

Many, many students are devastated by this decision, and they are not all "elite" or "disadvantaged", students of every background are being harmed and demotivated by this rushed decision.


MVLA parent
Monta Loma
on Apr 13, 2020 at 3:17 pm
MVLA parent, Monta Loma
on Apr 13, 2020 at 3:17 pm
19 people like this

Please join over 1000 MVLA stakeholders in signing the petition asking the board to reverse it's decision. They rushed into it...many other Bay Area districts are carefully weighing their options. It's not too late for MVLA to do the same.


Timothy Campos
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Apr 13, 2020 at 4:00 pm
Timothy Campos, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Apr 13, 2020 at 4:00 pm
18 people like this

Sanjay,

thank you so much for writing this to explain your position. I appreciate you taking the time to do so.

You were articulate in summarizing the situation with one of your statements: "I don’t want to introduce a flawed system as a knee-jerk reaction to the situation we’re in". Sadly I believe that is exactly what the school board did - despite your intent. We are in unprecedented times and as you point out, we are in a situation that is affecting many other communities as well. That said, I do not believe that this decision represents the majority of school districts across the country. Therefore, you've put students in the MVLA school district at a disadvantage. The fact that other Bay Area schools have chosen this action does not make the problem any better for the students.

I fully recognize and appreciate the challenges with any grading option (including the one that was selected). However, I fail to see how effectively NOT grading students does anything to solve the problems our students are now facing having to work from home. What it does do is (1) eliminate incentives for students to work hard (2) destroys the work that those students who were working hard to attain their grades or improve their grades, (3) create enormous stress for Juniors and Sophomores to find some mechanism to differentiate themselves and (4) placed a lot of pressure on parents and students to come up with alternative solutions which are likely to be costly to families and burdensome to school administration to support.

Moreover, I fail to understand the rushed nature of this decision. While I can understand that teachers need some clarify on an issue as complex as grading, I do not see any need to force a decision with minimal community input. Case in point - Why was the survey to the community not used to make a decision? What was the result of the survey? This entire process felt unnecessarily rushed.

Again, I celebrate you taking the time to explain yourself, and I appreciate that the board and the school district is between a rock and a hard place. However, I believe this decision was not only harmful to the community, but the manner in it was made was not in service to the community either.


MVHS Teacher
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Apr 13, 2020 at 5:22 pm
MVHS Teacher, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Apr 13, 2020 at 5:22 pm
17 people like this

The hypocrisy in this community is staggering. The very same people who are questioning the district’s rush to judgement bashed them for not getting things done fast enough in the immediate days of transitioning to online learning? So which is it?

The very same board member (Faillace) who spoke so eloquently while quoting Benjamin Franklin in a school kick-off presentation, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are equally as outraged as those who are,” voted against the very policy that does just that. So which is it?

Those of you advocating so passionately for letter grades should do your homework more carefully. The research paints a pretty bleak picture of how ALL students fair, the high achieving ones too, with online learning versus classroom learning. Be careful what you wish for.

I applaud the four board members for making the difficult but most advantageous decision for all students in our community.


MVLA parent
Monta Loma
on Apr 13, 2020 at 5:40 pm
MVLA parent, Monta Loma
on Apr 13, 2020 at 5:40 pm
16 people like this

Dear MVHS teacher,
I honestly don't see the connection between the board's rushed decision to turn to credit/no credit (24 hour notice), is comparable to the concern many parents and students had over the 3 work weeks it took to get anything besides a review going with distance learning. You are comparing apples to oranges and two completely different situations.

Students were given an entire week (4 school days off + 1 holiday) while teachers had those 4 work days to transition to online learning. Then...two weeks of pure review for the kids (some kids were given work to do from their previous years) while teachers were spending more time getting ready for the transition. Little or no stimulation and no new learning for three weeks. Then, the kids were off again for another week, meaning we are now four weeks into this new environment with little or no progress on the education front. Granted today was the first day of Phase II learning, but hard to see any improvements at this point. In the meantime the kids have lost an awful lot of momentum and motivation.

I realize it's not easy to turn a ship the size of MVLA around, but again, if Los Angeles (734,000 students), and San Diego (121,000 students) school districts can pivot to distance learning AND grades (with no child harmed) then where are we as a District? Other local school districts are proceeding with grades and taking more time to make a decision.

As for Mr. Faillace's comments, I don't think the argument has been won that the credit/no credit is the most equitable. The argument that grades can only go up, not down, seems to be the most equitable, with no penalties for anyone.

I"m not quite sure what your point is regarding online learning vs. classroom learning; it is looking more and more like online learning is in our future, whether we like it or not and the sooner we get there the better for keeping our kids engaged and learning.


SRB
St. Francis Acres
on Apr 13, 2020 at 5:50 pm
SRB, St. Francis Acres
on Apr 13, 2020 at 5:50 pm
9 people like this

Thank you for detailing your thought process. re: college admission, it's worth noting that most colleges have also adopted a pass/fail (credit/no credit) policy for their last semester. So I think they'll be understanding of a similar policy adopted in high scools.


parent of high schooler
Rengstorff Park
on Apr 13, 2020 at 5:53 pm
parent of high schooler, Rengstorff Park
on Apr 13, 2020 at 5:53 pm
11 people like this

IN terms of colleges, almost all that we've heard from are offering a choice, pass/fail or a grade. That's how we went down the rabbit hole of offering a choice.

However, sticking with grades and making sure that they can only go up, not down seems to be the smartest and fairest way to approach it with no kids being penalized.


Just Curious
another community
on Apr 13, 2020 at 6:34 pm
Just Curious, another community
on Apr 13, 2020 at 6:34 pm
16 people like this

I think our community too often miss the difference between social lifts and social justice. This rises to the level of hypocrisy when the words about social equity come from the people who will hire private college councilors, of course, if their children didn't happen to qualify as legacy students or college athletes in mass sports like sailing or rowing.

As Dr. Faillace noted in other op-ed, the inequality existed well before the coronavirus outbreak. Students from Mountain View apartments have never had the same opportunities as students from Los Altos Hills mansions.

The decision not to grade hurts students differently not on the basis poor vs. rich, it hurts most those seeing high school as a starting point of their careers and working hard to go further.


LAHS Parent
another community
on Apr 14, 2020 at 1:16 pm
LAHS Parent, another community
on Apr 14, 2020 at 1:16 pm
Like this comment

Is Fremont Union HSD a better school district than MVLA? Most would say yes. Similar demographics but better schools. I wonder what they will decide for their policy.


Jon Keeling
Gemello
on Apr 15, 2020 at 4:46 pm
Jon Keeling, Gemello
on Apr 15, 2020 at 4:46 pm
3 people like this

This is a VERY long message that I will break down into sections to save you time if you don’t have much of it. :-)

Index:
1) Background on me
2) The situation at MVLA
3) Grading options
4) My view
5) Implementation
6) Looking forward to the future
7) Teachers
8) Kids

1) Background on me:
One of my kids is a sophomore at LAHS. I have two older kids who graduated from LAHS and Paly. I have also worked with many students at MVHS & AVHS, mostly volunteering with mentoring and mental health efforts.
I come from a family of teachers and have been a teacher since 1984. I have taught well over 10,000 students on three continents. I am known for my innovative teaching style and helping students reach (for) their potential. My graduate degree included a teaching focus. When I assess my students, I provide them with useful, specific feedback. I have also done a lot of mentoring, where I work to help people holistically and inspirationally (the same way I teach and parent). I know how to teach and assess students, to motivate them and help them understand but not get frustrated by their shortcomings and to appreciate their abilities and successes. I have also done a ton of volunteering in the mental health space.
I have never been a fan of grades or test scores as the primary indicators of a student’s worth. I have always told my kids that I would like them to pass their classes but don’t care about the grades nearly as much as I do about them learning the material and fostering an appreciation for the learning process that I hope sticks with them for the rest of their life.

2) The situation at MVLA:
We have students of all types in our district. Some are pushing hard to maximize their GPA in an effort to gain access to an elite university or to be the first in their family to attend college. Some are from families with limited income, where the high school student may be working to help with the household income, taking care of younger siblings, and have limited access to wifi. Some have learning or emotional issues. Our public school system is meant to support/educate ALL of these various students. In general, they have a very good reputation for doing this.

Online learning is new to most students and teachers. It is more difficult to facilitate student discussion, distracting for many students, and assessment can be challenging. (I know…I am teaching via Zoom about 18 hours/week these days)

3) Grading options:

There are quite a few ways grading can be handled in our schools. Four of them were included in the survey sent out to parents and teachers a couple weeks ago. Several others were NOT listed. Each has its benefits and shortcomings.

4) My view:
As many of you already know, I was pushing the OPTION for EITHER a letter grade OR credit/no-credit since the idea of switching to C/NC first came up in March. I was in the debate in Palo Alto before it was even brought up in MVLA. I was the first one to bring up this idea in the MVLA board meeting on March 30. And I still believe that this would have been better than requiring everyone to go credit/no-credit, all things considered, to accommodate ALL students. It would have provided less stress for those who are currently overwhelmed with financial hardship, additional responsibilities or limited access to wifi, while keeping incentive for those working for high/higher letter grades. (Please note that Los Angeles and San Diego have offered this option and San Mateo is apparently leaning toward this in their vote tomorrow)
That said, I think it is probably too late in the semester to allow students to potentially cherry-pick which classes they want to receive a grade for. If a student is able to opt for letter grades now, I think it would have to be all-or-none. Regardless, I am fine with a policy that does not offer the choice letter grades…conditionally (see below). As I mentioned above, I am not a fan of grades in general. But I realize that they are important to some people. So I would like to offer an updated recommendation that should not only keep everyone happy but quite possibly result in an improvement over what we have had in the past…

***As I mentioned in the last board meeting, I would like to require all the teachers to enter into the system written qualitative comments about each student for each class.***

This is the way it worked when I did my undergrad at UCSC about 30 years ago: It was pass/fail (similar to C/NC but a "fail" would result if you didn't pass in P/F but in C/NC the class just drops off if you don't pass it) with an option for a letter grade. But ALL students received a written comment, regardless. Even if you did not opt for a letter grade, the equivalent grade could be inferred quite easily from the comment ("excellent work!" was an A, "very good" was a B, etc.).
I say we push to have all the teachers write qualitative comments for all the students. This way, students can point to these on their college applications and say "I put in an A-level performance in this class." I think this is a reasonable compromise and the board does not need to overturn their decision to go with credit/no-credit for all students in all classes.

5) Implementation:

Although I would prefer teachers to provide detailed feedback for each student, at minimum the teachers could set up templates to copy/paste and then tweak as appropriate. This does not require an entirely new skill-set for teachers, as they are used to providing feedback. It is only a minor change to what they have already been doing. I would think this should be quite simple to implement and I doubt any teacher who cares about his/her students would object.

6) Looking forward to the future:

Imagine if we switched to credit/no-credit being the default for all students, permanently...Less pressure for those who are not looking to get into the most competitive colleges and the focus could be more on learning as opposed to grades. We could get education back to its roots: focus on learning. This is a GOOD thing, isn’t it? We could set an example for other public schools to follow. I have done a ton of research in the field of education and many great education specialists are saying similar things. If we provide the OPTION to receive a letter grade AND we require teachers to add a comment for each student for each class, we could please pretty much everyone. It would only be a little more work/time for our teachers.

My hope is that if we can keep it going for the future, we could be an example for other schools to follow. (some background reading: Web Link )

7) Teachers:

As we know, our teachers are not in this profession for the money. I can tell you this from first-hand experience as a teacher who left a 20-year career in investments and technology to focus exclusively on teaching. Our teachers want what's best for our kids. If we ask them to do this for their students, I think/hope there would be no push-back. And we need the teachers to be on our side. We rely on them to help our kids learn. As with nurses and several other professions, they do it because they care more about the people than for the money. At times like this, we parents and administrators should be supporting them, not fighting against them.

8) Kids:

And the ones we should be fighting FOR are our kids. That doesn’t mean juts fighting for our own kid(s). We should be fighting for ALL of them. And not just for their ability to pass classes or get good grades in classes. We should be fighting for them to have the best opportunities to LEARN and to be inspired to learn and develop and use their creativity and compassion and maintain a positive attitude.

I want ALL of our students to have the opportunity to do their best and to be recognized for their efforts without unnecessary stress. Let’s show compassion and support for ALL of our students.

Our primary duty as parents and educators is to help prepare our kids to survive (and hopefully thrive) by themselves after they leave home. What are we teaching them about life? As a teacher, mentor, parent and parenting coach, I think this is a very important decision we are facing right now. I want our kids to know that we care about ALL of them. Not all of them should be required to get a letter grade. Not all of them should be required to simply be given credit without acknowledging their effort and achievement. All of them deserve to be given opportunity and motivation.

If YOU were the student right now, what would you want YOUR parents/teachers/administrators to do? I fight for my kids. And I fight for others. I always have. And I always will.


@LAHS Parent
another community
on Apr 15, 2020 at 5:07 pm
@LAHS Parent, another community
on Apr 15, 2020 at 5:07 pm
2 people like this

FUHSD's demographics are not the same as MVLA's and it is not a better district.

They are doing credit/no credit, just like PAUSD and MVLA are.


LAHS Parent
another community
on Apr 16, 2020 at 10:36 am
LAHS Parent, another community
on Apr 16, 2020 at 10:36 am
12 people like this

I am afraid that you are mistaken. FUHSD has not announced what they are doing. I believe they will be discussing at their April 20 board meeting.

Here are the US News rankings for California High Schools (MVLA and FUHSD only)

State Rank School
13 - Monta Vista (FUHSD)
14 - Lynbrook (FUHSD)
25 - Cupertino (FUHSD)
51 - Homestead (FUHSD)
56 - Los Altos (MVLA)
68 - Mountain View (MVLA)

Gee. I wonder which one is the better school district?


@LAHS Parent
another community
on Apr 16, 2020 at 11:02 am
@LAHS Parent, another community
on Apr 16, 2020 at 11:02 am
13 people like this

I am not mistaken. Web Link

You're basing your assumption about which district is better off of the US News and World Report rankings, but have you seen how those are determined? Even teachers at that "better" district know that those rankings are based on faulty criteria. Compare the demographics of Lynbrook and Monta Vista with Los Altos and Mountain View. They are NOT similar.

Nevertheless, both districts are following the recommendations of the Santa Clara County Board of Education in going with credit/no credit.


LAHS Parent
another community
on Apr 16, 2020 at 12:25 pm
LAHS Parent, another community
on Apr 16, 2020 at 12:25 pm
Like this comment

Thanks. I'm surprised that FUHSD made that decision but it does make me more accepting of MVLA's decision knowing that FUHSD has done the same.


question for MVWSD parents
North Bayshore
on Apr 17, 2020 at 3:13 pm
question for MVWSD parents, North Bayshore
on Apr 17, 2020 at 3:13 pm
Like this comment

Did your school/teacher in practice suspend all grades for the remainder of the year?
MVWSD's website: Web Link
"The Board of Trustees has provided direction at the April 2, 2020 meeting that all grading should be suspended for the remainder of the school year, and students should be promoted to the next grade for the 2020-21 school year."


@LAHS Parent
Cuernavaca
on Apr 17, 2020 at 5:29 pm
@LAHS Parent, Cuernavaca
on Apr 17, 2020 at 5:29 pm
2 people like this

You've (intentionally?) left Fremont High School off your list of FUHSD rankings. Where do they come in at?


UC/CSU not req SAT/ACT
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2020 at 7:15 pm
UC/CSU not req SAT/ACT, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2020 at 7:15 pm
2 people like this

UC/CSU not req SAT/ACT, will that make GPA all the more important, hope some high schools beyond MVLA don’t game this crisis.


parent of high schooler
Shoreline West
on Apr 18, 2020 at 10:28 pm
parent of high schooler, Shoreline West
on Apr 18, 2020 at 10:28 pm
2 people like this

@ UC/CSU not req SAT/ACT:

Sorry, not sure I understand your comment...looks like the fact the UC/CSU systems are not requiring SAT/ACT's is only going to make GPA's more important over the next 2 years. How can they possibly distinguish between students? On the otherhand, if they just admit everyone who applies that would be the most "equitable" we could hope for.

please elaborate.


Concerned parent
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 18, 2020 at 3:07 pm
Concerned parent , Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 18, 2020 at 3:07 pm
2 people like this

Please see this link for data showing only 10% of Ca high School students will not have a letter grade or option for a letter grade. Less than 20% of all public High school kids and less than 10% when factoring in private High school students in Ca. Those districts doing credit/no credit are putting their students into the small minority of kids, definitely not holding them harness, and adding tremendous stress.. Several districts representing this 10-20% of HS kids are revising their C/NC policies to add a letter grade option. So it’s not too late. See all data here: Web Link.


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