MVLA grading decision: Don't allow pandemic to harm students' records

For the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District’s remaining 39 days of Emergency Remote Learning (ERL), grading that holds students’ academic records harmless from the adverse effects of the abrupt transition to such learning is essential. Unfortunately, the binary credit/no-credit grading imposed April 6 by the board’s 4-1 vote, over my dissent, harms students who have worked hard to demonstrate improvement in their grades. It unfairly denies them any chance to have the “summative assessments” – that is, course grades – their labors have earned.

It doesn’t have to be that way – there is a more sensitive, hybrid system of grading. It not only preserves the protections of credit/no-credit for students whom letter grading would undeservedly harm, but also allows students who have improved, despite ERL’s challenges, to get grades showing that improvement on their transcripts.

Students would be graded in each course as well as teachers could manage in ERL, and shown their final grade for the course before they chose among getting that final grade, getting the third-quarter grade as the final grade or getting credit/no-credit instead of a grade. Only students without credit/no-credits would have second-semester grades used in calculating grade point averages.

Inevitably, some teachers will compensate for ERL’s shortcomings more quickly than others teaching the same course. However, differences in teachers’ effectiveness have existed long before ERL and have created inequities in grading. We did not stop issuing grades then while we worked to raise all teachers to the level of the best, and we should not do so now.

Similarly, with the MVLA Foundation’s generous support, we have put a free Chromebook in the possession of every student lacking a laptop. We have given scholarships to disadvantaged students for internet access. During the past 13 instructional days of shelter-in-place, we have continued to provide free meals, and we have painstakingly identified most of the students still without internet access, and helped them get no-cost access.

Despite our efforts, many students now have nonschool responsibilities that, under ERL, further impede their access to our assets. Credit/no-credit “grading,” binary or hybrid, will protect their grades.

However, denying grades to students who are on track to improve them over first semester’s – as many students, including Advancement Via Individual Determination students, are – will do nothing to improve learning for overburdened students.

Under any grading system, we have to improve their learning with more programs like Mentor Tutor Connection.

Phil Faillace is a member of the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District Board of Trustees.

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