Breaking News: Board of Trustees votes to adopt credit/no credit grading system

The+Board+of+Trustees+voted+in+favor+of+the+pass%2Ffail+system+on+behalf+of+Sequoia+Union+High+School+District.

View of District Headquarters / Jeanjung212 / Wikimedia commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

The Board of Trustees voted in favor of the pass/fail system on behalf of Sequoia Union High School District.

After about four hours of discussion, the Sequoia Union High School District (SUHSD) Board of Trustees decided their students’ fates for the remainder of the 2020 school year. 

Initiated at 6 p.m. on April 15, the board held a regular meeting, open to the public, regarding the few options for grading systems as the school year continues virtually. The board was ultimately considering two options: pass/no pass and hold harmless/grading floor model. 

According to the meeting agenda, pass/no pass (also referred to as credit/no credit) means that “students who receive a pass shall acquire the appropriate semester units of credit for the course” which will not be counted in determining GPA, class rank, honors list, or membership in the California Scholarship Federation while “students who receive a no pass grade shall not receive credit for the course;” however, this designation will also not affect their overall GPA.

In contrast, the agenda reveals that in the hold harmless/grading floor model, “no grade will drop from the grade that will be calculated from assignments that were collected and other objective criteria or factors that have not yet been graded or posted prior to March 13th or Q3 April 10th grades. Q4 activities/lessons and student participation will serve to maintain or improve grades from the established grading floor.”

The discussion concerning the options for grading systems began with public comments and notes from those in the community as well as a recap of survey results. Despite the options that the board was considering, many argued to keep the traditional grading method.

“Like many of my peers, I stayed focused and worked extremely hard, and I’m very proud of what I have accomplished from the first half of the semester. If we implement a binding pass/fail grading policy, all of the countless hours of hard work go unrecognized. Pass/fail completely discredits students aiming to show academic growth and development, which is crucial in the college admissions process,” said a junior from Menlo Atherton high school.

While some argued for grades, others argued for a credit/no credit system for a variety of reasons.

“Grades are not what’s most important right now. In this crisis, it’s important to remember that it’s not a regular semester. Hence, for the sake of equity, we must thoroughly consider a non-typical grading system. We must go credit/no credit; it’s the right thing to do,” a teacher from Sequoia High School wrote for public comment.

Likewise, there were many for the hold harmless system, both in the survey results and in public comment.

“I am advocating for hold harmless. It will make it so that our grades won’t go down. It will also allow students that have to work at jobs to be able to work as essential workers,” Alec, a member of the community said.

As the different sides defended their opinions, some people wanted the board to consider a rather unexpected method, a hybrid of the two. 

“I was hoping we might consider that the students would have the option to chose one of the grading frameworks: either a letter grade or the pass/fail option for the semester,” said a member of the SUHSD community.

Following comments from the public, the board took the discussion into their own hands and brought their ideas to the table. They noted the idea that there is no win-win option in this situation, and that the decision would be difficult regardless. 

“In this case, however, I think that’s a balancing act for us about the variable interest of our students. My conclusion is that I support credit/no credit policy,” said Chris Thomsen, a member of the board.

As the discussion continued, the board came to more decisive conclusions about the credit/no credit policy versus the hold harmless option. According to board member Georgia Jack, many universities have adopted credit/no credit systems and she believes that SUHSD should follow.

The members’ decisions were made with many considerations of their peers and the community’s opinions. They took into account everyone’s ideas but eventually decided on what they thought was best for the community.

“We need to take steps toward equity through unequal supports. And to me, that means that our response needs to take the form of credit/no credit system. This really addresses those that are most desperately challenged and endangered by the situation,” said Alan Sarver, vice president of the board.

By a vote of 3-2, the board determined that all schools in the district will transition to a credit/no credit system, a decision in line with the superintendent’s recommendation. Jack, Thomsen, and Sarver voted in favor of this system while board president Allen Weiner and board clerk Carrie Du Bois voted in against it, favoring the proposed hold harmless system.

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Although they were divided, the trustees emphasized that they supported whatever decision was made, seeing that they had done their due diligence and taken all perspectives into consideration.

“Public education has a role to be sure that we provide as much access to opportunity as possible to all students because it creates pathways to the American dream. And, during this worldwide pandemic, we need to think about this from an education perspective, an opportunity, and access perspective, and a public health perspective,” Jack said.

As the year continues, many believe that everyone will adjust to the newly implemented system, but as of now, the board had to take measures that may not please all participants.

At the end of the day, the board members reassured their community that they had their students’ and teachers’ best interests in mind, and praised them for their great passion for the issue.

“Students, you have inspired me. You have given me confidence during this very very difficult vote, the hardest vote of my 15-year board career,” Du Bois said.

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