Editorial: District should implement pass/fail grading system

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Since Home Learning has been implemented, BHUSD has decided against a Pass/Fail grading system, and has instead chosen to maintain a letter grade system.

As COVID-19 has altered the way we live our lives, the BHUSD has made commendable attempts in maintaining normalcy in this period of uncertainty, but, as the case may be, what students may need now, at least in their classes, is a lack of normalcy. It is no surprise that the Home Learning program is different from being at school, as is expected. The course content is altered, as are the means of receiving it, but above all, Home Learning isn’t the same as being in school, so we shouldn’t be being graded as if we were getting the same level of education as before.

It’s no question that there were discrepancies between not only regular courses and honors/AP courses, but also between each level and the different teachers teaching a course; however, since the implementation of home learning due to the coronavirus, these differences have become accentuated.

You hear it constantly: “Oh, your AP Physics teacher isn’t making you do ‘x’ assignment? Mine is.” Or, “What teacher do you have for Spanish? Oh, we don’t have the same teacher so we can’t study together.” These palpable discrepancies were already barriers before the coronavirus, but now that online learning has come into play, some students are receiving scheduled testing, video lessons and assignments from certain classes while others, who may be taking the same course but with a different teacher, barely have to do any work. Although there are clear guidelines set by the district for home learning, the circumstances are different for almost every class.

Although this is unfair, the real problem is for those who aren’t getting direct online instruction. It may feel as though they are teaching themselves the material and they aren’t being given a chance to bring up their grade from the status that it was prior to online learning. 

If a student had a C in a class before the beginning of spring break, they were under the assumption that they’d have two-plus months to take advantage of office hours, normal testing and more assignments to boost their grade. Now that we’ve switched to online learning, there’s a huge discrepancy in which teachers and which classes will still hold those kinds of opportunities to help students. This is also apparent in that AP classes may be more lenient on grading as they can use AP scores as a potential grade booster at the end of the semester, yet students in regular level classes won’t have this opportunity. 

We are lucky that our district has been able to provide technological devices, shorter class times and steady communication to assist us in a transition to online learning; however, a shift to online learning is not the only change that many of us have had to go through. Parents in the medical field may now be absent from homes, or quarantined away from their families; students and parents alike may have lost jobs, or students may be going through complicated living situations. The point is, things are far from normal, and keeping expectations and standards as if things were normal, will not work. Something’s got to give, and we, the Editorial Board, are asking the district to consider a shift to Pass/Fail, with optional opt-in if possible, for the Spring Semester of 2020.

Here’s how the Pass/Fail system generally works: as stated in the Norman Guide and on the school profile, “With teacher approval, students may elect to take certain courses on a Pass/Fail basis, but not those required for graduation. Students enrolled in a course Pass/Fail must complete all required work, but when a final mark is issued, they may choose ‘P’ (Credit Only) as an alternative to the mark earned. Students who do failing work receive a grade of ‘F,’” and that, “the purpose of the Pass/Fail Option is to encourage students to take more advanced academic courses or electives…Courses taken Pass/Fail must be above and beyond BHHS requirements and above and beyond minimum requirements for 4-year colleges/universities.” Moreover, anything with a letter grade of D or above is considered a pass, but these Pass/Fail grades are not incorporated into your GPA.

However, then the question of varying grade levels comes in: although Pass/Fail would help students who don’t have the chance to bring their grades up, it seems as though it could harm juniors in how competitive they look to universities; however, College and Career Counselor Casey Rowley said that universities are well aware of the fact that this semester is a challenging one.

“Beverly Hills High School is not heading towards a pass/fail system,” she said. “So, if our school is remaining on a graded system for this spring semester and another school goes on a pass/fail, that’s okay. It’s not going to affect a student’s chances, it’s not going to increase or decrease. By and large with everything going on, students and families have expressed interest in wanting to remain in a graded system and I think it’s really important to remember that colleges are also aware that spring 2020 has an asterisk on it. What I mean by that is that grades and your extracurriculars will look drastically different for most students…It’s really important to keep in mind that an admission application is very contextual. That means it is within the context of the student, within the context of their home situation, their personal situation, where they’re applying to college, and also where they went to high school and what was available to them.”

According to a survey conducted by Highlights with 118 respondents, although about 63% of students feel like they aren’t learning as much online as they did in class and 54% of them would want to switch to a Pass/Fail grading system, BHUSD Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Dustin Seemann has given a few reasons on why a Pass/Fail system would not work:

“In BHUSD, we are following Board Policy 5121. Each School District has the right to set grading practices through Board Policy. When UC/CSU and the Governor came out and stated that it was okay to move to pass/fail, BHUSD has always had that right to determine our own grading system. With the work our students and staff have put into Home Learning Plan 2.0, we have made the decision to stay in our current grading practices. The reasons are that our Pass/ Fail option in grading provides students with a ‘D’ grade to pass the course instead of failing like the UC system is requiring,” Seemann said. “Ms. Rowley and myself worked with our professional networks to get direct statements from other university systems like the Big 10 or SEC to ensure we did not propose a change in grading that would damage our students’ opportunities in the future.”

As BHUSD has typically followed in LAUSD’s footsteps during each phase of this pandemic, we would expect that after LAUSD and the UTLA bargaining team reached an agreement that stated: “In recognition of the gap in home learning resources, students will be ‘held harmless’ and will not receive a lesser grade than their grade as of March 13,” “teachers have the discretion to give students a higher grade,” and that “state and district assessments scheduled for after March 13 have been suspended,” that BHUSD would follow.

Given this, although the Editorial Board respects the Board’s decision to keep letter grades and recognizes the ramifications a Pass/Fail system could potentially cause, because of this chaotic time, we feel that a Pass/Fail system with an opt-in option would rightfully place everyone on a level playing field until the coronavirus pandemic is contained. For more information, visit here.

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