[My district, San Juan Unified in suburban Sacramento, decided to adopt Credit / No Credit grading for Spring 2020. But they are facing blowback from a certain element in the community. So I wrote this and sent it to the decision-makers. How is your institution handling Spring 2020 grades? Let me know in the comments.]
The feed on my Next Door app has turned from posts about lost and found Chihuahuas to angry missives about the San Juan Unified School District’s decision to adopt Credit / No Credit grades for the pandemic shutdown second semester: Spring 2020.
I am grateful that I can count on my district and especially my association to maintain their resolve on this important decision. Because it is the correct decision.
During shutdown, there is no way to assess individual student knowledge or capabilities. In functional school, in-class tests carefully designed by classroom instructors could be administered and proctored by those teachers to ensure accurate and secure results. There is no practicable way to do that online. None. Everyone under 20 understands that perfectly well. People over 30 have diminishing understanding of that, which decreases with increasing age.
That reality, alone, is enough to scuttle any hope of being able to produce letter grades for students during shutdown. But it gets worse.
As of March 13, 2020, instructors such as myself planned to make it to retirement without ever having constructed or administered an online version of their course. I teach college prep and Advanced Placement physics lab courses. No one imagines teaching or learning such a subject in an online environment. No one.
Sophisticated and specialized demonstration equipment remains locked away in access-restricted classrooms. Sophisticated and specialized laboratory apparatus for hands-on student lab group collaborative experiment activities is similarly behind lock and key. Neither demonstrations nor labs can be conducted or assessed during shutdown. And these are the core of my courses.
As of March 16, 2020, I have been bombarded with invitations and recommendations to engage in Google Classroom, Pear Deck, Edulastic, Flip Grid, Zoom, etc., not to mention online science resources. The flood of online platforms, tools, and resources is overwhelming and I am being asked to build an airplane while it is in flight. I know nothing of these things and never planned on using any of them. They do not pertain to the job I was hired to do—a job that I have been recognized for doing exceptionally well.
Could I assign copious reading, video watching, and essay writing for the many, many students on my roster? Yes. But those assignments would be going into homes with an untold variety of circumstances: high and low bandwidth, high and low economic anxiety, high an low physical space, and myriad environments—some more conducive to learning than others. At best, getting all those lengthy assignments back would require time beyond what’s available to assess.
Those who insist that letter grades be awarded during this time appreciate and understand none of this. They are worried that a Credit/No Credit grades awarded in Spring 2020 will disqualify students from admission to top-tier elite post-secondary institutions. They imagine that none of these institutions will be aware of the global pandemic that shut down the world in Spring 2020. They worry that students from districts who are awarding letter grades in Spring 2020 will have a competitive advantage over SJUSD students in college admissions. None of this is true.
In short, it is a small but vocal band of affluent families who are arguing for letter grades that cannot be determined honestly in Spring 2020. It is an argument for a policy that comforts the comfortable and afflicts the afflicted.
I appreciate my district and my association rejecting such a policy.
Rio Americano High School Physics
Presidential Awardee for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching
American Association of Physics Teachers Fellow