Covid-19 – Vallejo schools ease up on grading, Benicia stays tough but will discuss

[Editor: The Benicia School District’s May 7 meeting will take up the hot topic of grading policies under distance learning.  In this updated version of the Times-Herald story, Benicia Superintendent Charles Young goes on record defending Benicia’s grading policy.  For context, read below about other Bay Area school districts, and check out the California Dept of Education’s Coronavirus Guidance on Grades and Graduation.  – R.S.]

Coronavirus: Vallejo School District changes grading policies, but Benicia stays the same

Vallejo Times Herald, by Thomas Gase, May 1, 2020

With the coronavirus outbreak changing education with distance learning, many school districts have made changes to their grading policies for the spring semester.

The Vallejo Unified School District announced last month that third-quarter grades will be used for final grades, unless those grades go up during the final semester. This is the same for Fairfield and West Contra Costa County, while the Dixon Board of Supervisors announced they adopted a pass/no pass policy.

Other counties going to a pass/no pass or credit/no credit policy include Napa, Santa Clara, Sonoma and San Mateo. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors adopted a credit/no credit policy (after initially adopting a policy that would have given all students “A’s.”

However, while many school districts have switched things up, Benicia Unified has yet to make any changes to its grading policy,  although there is an item on May 7 board meeting that mentions a report from Dr. Leslie Beatson on the next steps of distance learning.  One of the components of that presentation and discussion will be an update on the grading being implemented in Benicia Unified School District, according to an email from BUSD President Diane Ferrucci.

“Thursday’s board meeting will include an update from our Education Services Department on the distance learning plan to date, a standing agenda item as long as we are engaged in this model, and will also include an update on student feedback, engagement and grading,” Benicia Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Charles Young told the Times-Herald. “We have evidence illustrating that our model is working on behalf of the vast majority of our students and is helping to keep levels of student engagement high as we all navigate this new model together.”

Leann Taagepera, a parent of a senior student at Benicia High, was not happy with BUSD not making changes to its grading policy and sent out an email to Ferrucci requesting that the topic of the grading policy be an action item” on the board’s agenda, instead of a discussion only item.

“School boards across the state and nation are voting on the grading policies revised per the CDE’s suggestions during this school closure time period,” Taagepera said. “The school board and the public should be afforded meaningful input into the grading plan, not merely be told by staff what staff is proceeding with.”

Taagepera also requested Benicia High provide a survey to high school students and parents to solicit their opinions about what should compose the district’s grading policy during distance learning and that the survey include the state’s guidance on grading during the distance learning time period.

In an email to the Benicia School Board, Taagepera wrote, “All of the (school districts) are either adopting a credit/no credit or pass/no pass system or a system that states that the spring semester grades will not fall below what they were in the first quarter when schools closed, or a combination of both. Again, BUSD is the one district I have located that is not modifying its grading policy during this terrible time of upheaval in the lives of our students, parents, and teachers.”

Young said there are reasons they haven’t made a change to a pass/no pass policy as of yet.

“We stayed with the use of grades at the secondary level as it is a feedback system of which students, staff and parents are imminently familiar,” Young said. “We are aware of at least one district that decided to use credit/no credit is now getting petitions from parents to return to regular grades. This work is complicated and we know there is no perfect system. We are focused on the needs of our students and we will continue to reflect on our process as we go forward, not only with distance learning, but with all we do on behalf of our students.”

Young went on to praise Benicia teachers and faculty with their work in distance learning.

“Our teachers and all staff have been just amazing,” Young said. “We were among the first to implement the distance learning model (many school districts had upwards of three weeks of no instruction as they transitioned to distance learning), a formidable task for sure, but we were providing instruction on day one. We quickly distributed Chromebooks to students in need (the high school was already one-to-one); we identified essential standards by grade level and course offering. Our partnership with the Benicia Teachers Union has never been stronger and their level of professionalism continues to not only be admirable but is a model for other districts.”