Recognizing the impact of isolation on students during the pandemic, Pleasanton Unified School District is temporarily expanding the grading scale range for D and F grades for the second semester.
The Board of Trustees unanimously approved the temporary grading policy at its regular meeting on Thursday, giving middle and high school students who would normally receive an F grade on the traditional grading scale the chance "to potentially pass a class with a D and thus qualify for graduation credit," according to a staff presentation.
The point spread for D grades will be doubled from 10 to 20 points, and the F grade scale decreased from 60 to 50 points. Temporary calculations also expand the scale for a D grade from 50%-69% (instead of 60%-69%), and decrease the F grade scale to 0%-49% (instead of 0%-59%).
"Additionally, this grading scale change would help to mitigate the negative emotional impact of failing grades on the mental health of students during the global COVID-19 pandemic," staff said.
Grading scales for a grade C or above remain the same, and "those who have earned an extra grade weighting in Advanced Placement and Honors-level courses with A, B, and C grades, will experience no change with this policy."
Citing an uptick of D and F grades this school year, and "that not all students have had the same access and opportunity to excel during remote learning," the board adopted a different grading policy in early January, allowing secondary students to receive "Credit" or "No Credit" marks instead of low letter grades on their first-semester report card.
During board discussion, Trustee Kelly Mokashi asked why staff recommend letter grades this time.
Assistant Superintendent Janelle Woodward explained the first policy was approved after the first semester had ended but before teachers had posted their grades.
"Several things have changed since then," Woodward said, most notably being "able to do these kind of calculations in advance, meet with the team and begin to shift a grading scale."
"Even though it's temporary, it provides us with opportunities to see the impact of this and potentially have a long-term effect," Woodward said.
Also, students will soon be able to return to school, "so we know that it was the impact of them working in isolation during remote learning that led to the decline in the grades prompted by the pandemic," Woodward said, adding that attending in person at least part of the time should also add "another layer of intervention" for at-risk students.
"Given that, and given that we wanted to have ample time to implement this grading scale even prior to moving into the third quarter, we can have the chance to see that impact on the grades and the reduction of the F grades, compared to the first semester," Woodward said. "It would be too early for us to move to that, at this point in time."
Woodward finished, "We're also anticipating that this would be effective, and it might reduce the need to even visit the 'Credit' or 'No Credit' ultimately. That is our goal."
A comparison of high school progress reports for D and F grades during the third quarter shows a 5.2% decrease of D grades compared to last year. However, F grades jumped 59.4% from the same time last year.
Among demographic groups, 71% of Black/African American students received at least one D or F grade in quarter 3 for the 2020-21 school year, followed by 61.5% American Indian/Alaska Natives, 60% of students identifying as "other,” 42.9% Hispanic or Latino, 26.3% white and 25.4% Asian students.
District documents also show Hispanic students comprise the largest demographic that received five or more D or F grades (22.4%), followed by 18.8% American Indian/Alaska Natives, 17.9% of students identifying as "other", and then 14.8% Black, 10.1% white and 9% of Asian students.
The decision to issue "Credit/No Credit" marks in lieu of failing grades last semester was meant "to allow students time to remediate D/F grades and mitigate the negative pandemic-related emotional impact on the mental health of students," staff said.
A committee of PUSD instructors, staff and parents was formed shortly after, and recently came to consensus on a temporary secondary grading scale for the second semester.
Mokashi said it is "important to consider for long-term" to "think about the type of assessments that are being put into that grade book to get those grades, so digital portfolios, performances tasks, more performance-based assessments."
Board President Joan Laursen said she had received emails from parents about their children "receiving grades lower than they would have normally received in an in-person setting, and so their desire is that there be some adjustment to everyone's grades, as opposed to what we're doing here tonight."
"What we're trying to make possible is for students to graduate, and that's why we're doing this temporary grading policy," Laursen said.
Woodward replied, "That's why we like this particular option; it didn't adjust the As, the Bs or the Cs, but does make it possible for a student to potentially walk across the stage at the same time."
"We all know colleges do not accept Ds. So it's not giving students any unfair advantage; it's helping them graduate," Woodward said.
A spring credit recovery program also started on Feb. 16, allowing students to remediate their semester one "Credit" or "No Credit" marks by the end of the school year.
In other business
* PUSD's independent study program, which has been in limited operation for years, is receiving an additional $1.1 million in funding after the board unanimously approved staff's recommendation on Thursday.
Hybrid learning will start with pre-K to grade 2 on March 4, but the Pleasanton Virtual Academy serves towards those either "thriving in the remote/distance learning environment" or that may not desire in-person attendance "due to unique medical circumstances related to COVID." However, any student is welcome to attend.
Home teaching requests for anxiety or depression have "reduced dramatically" by approximately 50% as of Feb. 1, according to staff, while student feedback "has long indicated that a differentiated model is needed for a variety of reasons," prompting the academy's recent development.
The Virtual Academy has comparable "educational rigor and learning outcomes" as other PUSD schools, but students access and interact with the curriculum "in a slightly different way than they would in a traditional school setting, staff said, adding that "inherent in the program is flexibility, and choice."
Students enrolled in the academy can personalize their learning experience; grades 6 to 12 create an Individual Learning Plan that they revisit each semester and update as needed.
Depending on the grade level, students will meet with their instructor for one hour a week and complete anywhere from 180 to more than 240 minutes of learning activities per school day. Elementary students will have enrichment opportunities like coding and art classes, and middle and high school students can still participate in sports at their school of residence and opt for "unique electives."
In-person opportunities to enhance learning are also offered throughout the school year, and secondary students enrolled full time in Virtual Academy may also enroll in courses not offered through the program at the comprehensive sites. They will also be encouraged to enroll in Tri-Valley ROP courses and may concurrently enroll at Las Positas College.
For the 2021-22 school year, the academy will operate as an independent K-8 school and as a program for all three high schools. Students enrolled full-time in the comprehensive sites may also enroll in Virtual Academy courses not offered at their regular school.
The majority of staffing costs for the academy will come from "shifting" enrollment, which PUSD said is "difficult to accurately project without yet knowing enrollment and in high school course requests."
Trustee Mark Miller asked what would happen if 2,000 students wanted to enroll, and Educational Options Director Heather Pereira said that isn't possible since "we have to remain at 10% or less of our district enrollment because it will be structured through independent study apportionment."
"Right now, our plan is to accept students on a rolling basis, so first-come first-serve," Pereira said. "It is a little tricky because we've never offered this in a very robust, clearly defined and then publicly really advertised way before, so it's hard to tell how many students, and we might still have the pandemic effect."
"And then to add to that, it's brand new -- sometimes people are willing to try something new, sometimes not," Pereira added. "With that, I think we'll certainly have students that are interested in this."
Based on an enrollment of 250 students evenly distributed in K-12, staff estimate the annual expense will be approximately $1,111,000 -- $1 million for teaching staff and another $111,000 for support staff plus supplies, materials and WASC fees.
Families requesting enrollment in the fall cohort must complete their application for the Pleasanton Virtual Academy by March 15. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis and students will be admitted as space is available. For more information, email [email protected]