Pleasanton Unified School District will align instructional minutes to fix inconsistencies in learning time and teacher-to-student contact at its nine elementary schools, but the Board of Trustees agreed on Thursday that each site should collaborate and have the flexibility to decide their own bell schedule.
"At the end of the day, it's the individual school site in consultation with their teachers that will determine what programmatic structure that they do at that school site," Board President Joan Laursen said before voting at the board's regular meeting.
By aligning instructional minutes, the district said that "daily schedules may vary by school site, but the total yearly minutes for students will be consistent throughout the district by grade level."
An audit of elementary instructional minutes at PUSD was conducted while planning for the 2021-22 school year comparing pre-COVID and the onset of Senate Bill 98, which requires California public schools to offer in-person instruction as much as possible. There was "a wide variance" reported in how many instructional time students received as well as teacher-to-student contact time, according to staff.
"We want to come into compliance with Ed Code for the main reason we are currently disadvantaging some of our students who aren't getting the same number of instructional minutes -- whether or not they're getting staggered -- as other students in our district," Laursen said.
Staggered start and end times were identified as the starting point for many of the discrepancies in instructional minutes compared to sites that follow a consistent schedule. The audit also found slight variations in recess or lunch minutes contributed to differences in instructional minutes and teacher-to-student contact for third through fifth grades.
All schools met the minimum instructional time requirement, but "major inequalities in time" resulted in some kindergarten, first- and second-grade classes receiving 22 to 24 school days worth of extra instructional minutes compared to others, according to the audit.
Laursen explained the varying bell schedules started because at one point "everybody was doing staggered, and we had school sites come to us...and said 'we want to change, we want to do something differently.'"
"The board didn't say 'no you can't do that,'" Laursen said. "That's why we have some (sites) that do staggered and some that don't."
Several teachers shared their thoughts on staggered schedules and reading instruction during open comment, with most emphasizing the importance of smaller classes, especially for their youngest students that are learning foundational skills.
Alisal Elementary teacher Erin Salcido said her first-graders "have benefited from having a smaller class size ratio of 12 to 1, less noise, and less distraction," and that "adding more minutes does not equate to more learning nor does it accelerate a child's learning."
"Are you aware that many first-graders are coming into next year without ever being in a classroom?" Salcido said. "We are just starting to come out of a pandemic and by providing first-graders with a 45-minute small class environment, that gives students academic confidence, stabilizes their social and emotional needs, and gives students more individualized instruction from their teacher."
Trustee Kelly Mokashi said she was struggling with "the notion that if the staggered schedule goes away, that small group instruction engagement with our students cannot go to the wayside."
"This is personal for me; I have a daughter that is a struggling reader and so she does benefit with that smaller group instruction," Mokashi said. "But what I don't want to have is a message that even if we align these minutes and get some consistency across the board, that that small group instruction engagement is going to go to the wayside."
Teachers "need help with this transition, and so the district will have to support, to do that, and help make this transition so that our students don't lose out," Mokashi added.
In other business
* Middle and high school students that are struggling either with remote learning or transitioning to in-person instruction will receive Credit/No Credit marks instead of failing grades on their report card, after the board unanimously approved a temporary grading policy for the second semester on Thursday.
Students in grades 6 to 12 who earn a D letter grade this semester will instead receive a CR mark on their report card, while F letter grades will be replaced by NC marks. In both cases, students still may need to retake the course in question in order to satisfy graduation or college admission requirements.
The district said a CR/NC mark does not affect a student's GPA negatively like a D or F grade, and that the policy allows students who are failing "to avoid the immediate impact on the transcript until the course is remediated."
Extra grade weighting for A, B and C grades earned in Advanced Placement and Honors-level courses will be upheld, as will all other passing grades for students in regular classes. The temporary grading policy will also be applied to students in special education or with an IEP or 504 plan.
CR/NC marks were given during the first semester to give students time to "remediate D/F grades" and "give middle and high school students at risk of not passing the chance "to potentially pass a class with a D and thus qualify for graduation credit" before the board expanded the grading scale range in March for D and F grades for the second semester.
The point spread for D grades was doubled from 10 to 20 points, and the F grade scale was decreased from 60 to 50 points. Temporary calculations also expanded the D grade scale from 50%-69% (instead of 60%-69%), and decreased the F grade scale to 0%-49% (instead of 0%-59%).
Compared to last year, assistant superintendent Janelle Woodward said D and F grades are "still quite a bit higher," but that "in-person learning for 2021 did not begin until quarter 3 was nearly completed in mid-March, so the effect of the return to school had not yet had sufficient time to show an impact on student achievement when these grades were posted."
Recently, quarter 3 grades showed failing grades for high schoolers had declined by close to 800, with a nearly corresponding increase in the number of D letter grades, according to Woodward.
The number of F grades for middle schoolers also "declined by approximately 300 with a similar increase in Ds, so the policy seems to have helped narrow the gap for many students who were close to earning Ds and enabled them to pass some courses," Woodward said.
State legislation that would allow families to request changing their student's letter grades during the pandemic to Pass/No Pass also prompted PUSD to revisit their grading policy.
After meeting last month, the district's Grading Practices Committee came to consensus that extending the CR/NC temporary grading policy ahead of Assembly Bill 104's adoption "would ensure adequate time is provided to teachers to implement the changes in their gradebook for semester 2," and "also ensure all students receive the same equitable opportunity to have D/F grades changed to CR/NC, and not just those who submit a request for a change before June 1."