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.