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Students in Mountain View, Los Altos high schools to forgo letter grades this semester

Original post made on Apr 9, 2020

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.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, April 9, 2020, 10:02 AM

Comments (22)

Posted by Thank you
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Apr 9, 2020 at 2:22 pm

This is the right decision— I applaud the Board for taking this step though I’m sure there will be parents who push back. There are far too many students who aren’t in a position to learn effectively online through no fault of their own. And teachers in the same boat.

High achievers will still find ways to shine— this is a global crisis and grades can wait.

Posted by KM
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 9, 2020 at 3:04 pm

I am a teacher in a nearby high school district and I wish we would do this! I am trying my best to teach online and have gotten good feedback so far but Comcast is so slow right now that I can barely do audio calls, let alone video calls, let alone two of us teleconferencing in the same house, which is making it hard to teach students live in any meaningful manner. Everything has to be pre-recorded and posted. The students are under so much academic pressure. We just need to lay off.

Posted by MVLA Parent
a resident of Jackson Park
on Apr 9, 2020 at 3:56 pm

I am extremely disappointed that MVLA chose to adopt a credit/no credit system for Spring Semester. This unduly punishes students who were working hard to improve their grades for this semester over last semester -- and also sends them the message that all of their hard work for the 3rd quarter -- and all their effort in the 4th -- is of little relevance now.

As the FAQ says, this now means that only 3 semesters of their high school program will determine their college trajectory.

Explain to me the math behind this statement:

The UCs will have the three semesters but trying to improve the UC GPA with spring semester grades will not have an impact on the UC admission,

How does that work? Let's say a sophomore student (note that this isn't my son in particular, but is used to illustrate the point ) -- got a 3.0 average for Fall and then the next three quarters would have gotten a 4.0 average.

Under the graded system, they would have a GPA of 3.75. Under the new system, they would have a 3.66 at the end of their Junior year next year. With the competitiveness of college -- are you saying that doesn't matter? Or are you saying that for students who are sophomores this year, the UCs will also be counting their first semester senior year (by having late admissions?)

Are the UCs going to ignore this semester for ALL applicants from all schools?

This was the LEAST acceptable option on the survey that was sent out. Why not at least pick the option that kids could only raise their 3Q grade but not fall behind? Doesn't that achieve the same exact goal only with more incentive?

We deserve more details and a far better explanation for this choice than students "will be managing a variety of obstacles as we implement distance learning." and "Removing the letter grade will allow students to focus on learning and not a grade."


In short: We deserve more answers, such as:

Are ALL school districts in California going to adopt this system? What percentage of school districts nationwide are going to adopt this system?

What was determined to be suboptimal about the other three options presented to the school community -- particularly the one that would have let students raise their Q3 grade but not be punished for Q4 if it was too much of a challenge?

Perhaps most importantly: How does the district plan to measure the effectiveness of distance learning without grades -- without seeing if students improve or are hurt by distance learning? What if next year is the same and we have to go to distance learning again? Without those kinds of metrics, decisions will be far more difficult to make.

Posted by Timothy Campos
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2020 at 4:00 pm

This is a horrible decision and one that was not thought through at all. The issue that is affecting students in MVLA is affecting EVERYONE in our country. However, not everyone is moving to pass/fail grades, in fact most schools in the country are not.

Second, while there are inequities between students, eliminating grades does NOTHING to address them. If we truly care about this problem, we should provide the resources to address it.

Third, what eliminating grades DOES do is to eliminate incentives for students to work hard during this time - at a time where they most need the incentive as the normal alternatives (direct feedback from their teachers, peer pressure, just being exposed to a conducive learning environment) are no longer feasible. Even the superintendent sees this need - I'll refer to a quote from the article: "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" - YES!!!! Which is why we want the Teachers that we PAY FOR to assess them!

Finally, this choice is harmful to the best students. The students who put the most effort into their classes now have no mechanism to recognize them for their efforts as compared to students who put in the bare minimum.

NOT discussed in this article is that the time for public input on this decision was minimized so it could be railed through without awareness by the community.

I don't know the motivations of the school board for this, but I'll point out what this article already says - the people who were for this were the Teachers and Administrators - precisely the people who will MOST BENEFIT from this decision.

This was a bad decision and it should be reversed

Posted by psr
a resident of The Crossings
on Apr 9, 2020 at 5:44 pm

I think it was a pretty poor idea to take the least acceptable option of the ones offered by the district. Though other options were offered, it seems as though this was what they were planning to do all along.

What they have basically chosen to do is to take all the hard work students have done in the third quarter and throw it straight into the garbage. The kids who were putting in extra effort and getting As in their AP courses are now at exactly the same level as those kids taking the least challenging courses and getting Cs. If the district was concerned about equity, maybe they could have seen it from the perspective of those students.

Meanwhile, those AP students are STILL doing more work to prepare for the AP exams, which will likely be more difficult since it appears they will be online and un-proctored, eliminating the multiple choice section and focusing on free-response questions. What they are now faced with is a more difficult challenge to get the credit from the AP exams AND no advantage in their GPA for taking the more difficult class and performing well. Hardly equitable.

If the board had thought this through a bit more carefully, they would probably have opted for the plan where 4th quarter grades could help your GPA but not harm it. That would have allowed those who face challenges at home from being hurt while allowing those who are still working extra hard to benefit from their efforts. I realize that a process like that would require more work on the part of the teachers and administrators, but that would have been equitable to ALL students, not just some.

Posted by LAHS Parent
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2020 at 5:44 pm

Wow! The comments about how hard working kids are getting rewarded and this will benefit kids doing the bare minimum are so tone-deaf to the realities of some of our families. There are kids who are probably working harder than your kid but, who through no fault of their own, can't do as well. Now are trying to learn without a quiet space to work, their disability/emotional support accommodations are gone, they are stressed about parents losing income and they are working to help support the family. To say, but my kid works hard and they deserve that grade and those kids don't is just so selfish.

Also, why do you think the teachers aren't working hard?! I know for a fact that many of them are struggling to work on adapting lesson plans to an online environment, while taking care of their own young children, and struggling with technical difficulties. This is no vacation!

Posted by Trustee Faillace was right
a resident of North Bayshore
on Apr 9, 2020 at 6:44 pm

Article Quote: "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."

His option would have rewarded those who need a good second semester to balance any poor performance previous semesters, all the while not hurting those struggling now or will struggle later in our crisis. With UC focusing on 10th+11th grades (and not 9th and 12th), a semester can play a big role in close admissions.

This did not have to be zero sum game that many people were making it out to be.

Posted by Paula
a resident of another community
on Apr 10, 2020 at 9:52 am

What many forget, or just do not understand is that your child is NOT really in competition with kids from throughout the state, country or even world for a coveted spot at a UC or other elite university. Instead, they are in competition with the other kids at their high school. A quick look on the Naviance system shows this clearly. Students at LAHS and MVHS most have much higher grades and test scores (around the 80th percentile of all students admitted) to gain a spot at a UC or other top 50 universities. Colleges use the white sheet from each school and will only admit so many from each school. So everyone now is the same boat.

Posted by School board made the correct decision
a resident of Rex Manor
on Apr 10, 2020 at 10:31 am


* Our situation is pretty secure financially.
* own our home
* both of us work
* have children in LAHS.
* Both of them have quiet places to study.
* Both of them are smart.

However, even with all of that, we struggle with this online instruction.

One struggles with school and has been in IEP for years. She needs in person instruction. The teachers struggle to engage with her even in person. She struggles to engage with them.

Both of us work fulltime jobs and cannot be teachers. We have to cover the family bills. We do our best but we are not able to engage full time as a teacher.

I cannot IMAGINE how hard it is for parents that are financially insecure, have poor internet connections, do not have a quiet place to study.

I 100% SUPPORT the school board decision.

To all the parents whining: there are more kids than just yours in high school. Many of them struggle just to get online.

No one will care about a lower GPA this year. This is a worldwide pandemic. As in no college needs an explanation - everyone knows why the grades are all messed up.

Posted by Ugh
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 10, 2020 at 11:29 am

These parents only thinking about their kid, their kid's grades, their need for validation -- do they have any self-awareness? Thousands and thousands of people are losing their jobs. People are getting sick and dying. People are losing their homes in our community. Our entire lives have been upended.

But to them, their own kid being slightly less recognized for their specialness is what's important. Forget about what others in the community are going through. Makes me sad.

Posted by LAHS Parent
a resident of another community
on Apr 10, 2020 at 1:12 pm

This action by the board hurts MVLA students (especially 10th and 11th graders) and will make them less competitive in the college application process in comparison to students from schools who are still awarding letter grades. It especially hurts them in the all important 10th/11th grade "Weighted GPA" which is a key metric that highly selective colleges and universities use to filter applicants. There is no doubt that this decision by the board will result in many hard working MVLA students not being accepted to colleges that they otherwise would have been.

Posted by It's all about equality
a resident of Waverly Park
on Apr 10, 2020 at 2:38 pm

Look at the comments of the board members voting for this. This decision is 100% about 'equality'.... "the most equitable policy", "not playing on equal fields".
It's not trying to do what's best for the majority, or trying to help the most students the best we can. It's about equality.
Obviously from the comments some people think this is the best approach. And others will think, we could make 95/100 lives better, but because we can't make 100/100 better, we'll take 0/100. It's the most equitable!

Posted by Paula
a resident of another community
on Apr 10, 2020 at 2:51 pm

@LAHS Parent -
Please see my comments above. They are mostly competing against each other and because of the fact that so many MVLA students are high achievers the grades they need are already higher.

To get into the schools that I think you are talking about ( top 50 in US News Rankings?) your student will need -
Straight A's. ( or close it)
Very high test score -- 1530+ on SAT, 34/35+ on ACT
Strong Schedule -- Honors and AP classes -- they count them up and create a ratio -- how many did you take/how many were offered.
Something else compelling- being really great at a sport helps.
MVLA can and do get into the top 50 -- but they need higher grades to it -- but it is because of the deep pool of outstanding students. A semester of credit/no credit is not going to make any difference, as they are just being compared to each other. The good news is that there are lots of terrific schools out there --start doing research now.

Posted by PeaceLove
a resident of Shoreline West
on Apr 10, 2020 at 3:48 pm

Letter grades are a holdover from the Rational Industrial structure in which everything had to be parsed, measured and evaluated against some imaginary "standard." They should have been ditched a long time ago...everywhere. Putting kids in competition with each other and in a constant struggle to "make the grade" is a recipe for unhappy kids who game the system rather than taking pride and joy in learning itself.

Web Link

Posted by psr
a resident of The Crossings
on Apr 10, 2020 at 4:30 pm

As is typical, people championing for those in less advantaged circumstances have neither concern nor interest in being fair to those who they consider to have an "unfair advantage". This situation is a perfect way for them to strike out at children who are, in their eyes, in too good of a position and this is an opportunity to take them down a peg. In the process, they take the opportunity to virtue signal about situations that they have no knowledge of or any interesting in discovering.

First of all, this doesn't have to be a zero sum game. ALL the kids COULD benefit from this with the hybrid system that was proposed by Mr Felleice. The struggling kids wouldn't be penalized and the kids who were excelling would have their efforts recognized and rewarded appropriately. Kids who struggle wouldn't get worse grades and they could ONLY improve. EVERYBODY wins.

Secondly, the hybrid system gives those who are struggling the break they need AND still allows the kids who rise to a challenge to continue to have their effort rewarded. The pass/fail system ONLY rewards the first group while punishing the second. NOT equitable. All it does is create winners and losers.

However, a system that works for ALL the kids isn't what some here want. To them, I say shame on you. To punish a hard-working kid to satisfy your brand of equity is a shameful goal. Too bad ALL the kids aren't equally deserving in your eyes.

Posted by Parent
a resident of another community
on Apr 10, 2020 at 4:37 pm

I am usually against anything that psr posts. This is no exception. There is an educational divide in our community and psr is always wrong.

Posted by LAHS Parent
a resident of another community
on Apr 10, 2020 at 4:38 pm

What is Fremont Union High School District doing? Grades or Pass/No Pass?

Posted by @LAHS Parent
a resident of North Bayshore
on Apr 10, 2020 at 8:57 pm

San Mateo Union High School District delayed their decision ("San Mateo Union's grading pushback yields further examination"):
Web Link
FUHSD hasn't formally made any decision.

Posted by parent
a resident of Waverly Park
on Apr 11, 2020 at 8:48 am

It's incredible to hear that in the heart of Silicon Valley it's taken so long to pivot to remote learning. With free wifi in many locations and chromebooks issued to every student, the idea that learning tools are not already in the hands of the students seems hard to believe. There are already examples of where other schools (including performing arts) have made the shift to cloud with much acclaim. Maybe this needs to be part of the post mortem review to ensure that our schools have more resiliency in times of hardship. Maybe build into the future schedule ongoing learning remote from home so that the lessons of today don't get forgotten.

Posted by msanchez
a resident of North Whisman
on Apr 11, 2020 at 9:40 am

Here is how I’m grading my kids during this pandemic

F - You worry about how your GPA is going to suffer.
D - You complain a lot and don’t help
C - You keep to yourself and attempt to do some school work
B - You help with with something at home you weren’t helping before such as cooking, laundry, or cleaning.
A - You have concern for what’s happening to people that are not you and outside our house, and attempt to do something to help

Full disclosure. We’re currently a C+ family. So we have room for improvement.

Posted by real world
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Apr 11, 2020 at 1:22 pm

love the comments / world view of the 'resident of North Whisman'

and in the end, the love you get, is equal to the love you make (Peace and Love)

The Real World will not always reward those who just 'get in' and git by. It may unjustly reward those whose wealthy parents "buy them a spot" (Harvard - little Justin K. and the like). Kids in India and Africa die from malnutrition, who have a higher IQ than your kids. The world is tough, and fate unfair, and this is a good thing to teach your kids in this TEACHABLE MOMENT.

Posted by Jon Keeling
a resident of another community
on Apr 15, 2020 at 12:08 pm

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. :-)

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. 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.

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