Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Grade Inflation Pandemic of 2020, Part 1: The Problem

As the coronavirus pandemic began to take off, schools around the world began to close. Initially it was thought that a month-long shutdown might suffice. Student were told to take their papers and books home on our last day of school.

After a few weeks of virtual office hours paired with opportunities for students to read, review, and enrich, it was decided that more direct instruction was called for. If assignments are to be assigned and so forth, there must be a mechanism for determining grades.

The in-class lesson plans for the remainder of the year were rendered useless. Teachers had to suddenly master online distance teaching tools and techniques that most of them never had any interest in using.  "Have you activated your Google Classroom? Are you ready to Zoom with your classes? Are you hip to Flip Grid? What about Pear Deck? Do you have an Edulastic account? Have you tried Screencastify or do you prefer Screencast-omatic?" Every company with online solutions flooded teacher inboxes with free trials and promises of online instruction efficacy.

There was an expectation that teachers would flip a switch and put their in-class instruction online. Of course they cannot. And college prep / Advanced Placement lab science? Not a chance.

Even if they could, student families were in various states of preparedness. In any school community, there will be a variety of Internet accessibility. And on a larger scope, there is now a variety of economic stability/parental employment status. And a variety of direct COVID-19 impact.

Practicable instruments to asses individual student performance online do not exist. Period. Full stop. If you believe students can be honestly assessed online, it's because you are old. Well over 20. Anyone under 30 knows secure online assessment doesn't exist. (If you think you know such an online tool, type its name into your search engine and add the word "cheat" and see what happens. I'll wait.)

Given the variety of teacher preparedness and student circumstances, it was decided that the most equitable solution would be to switch from letter grades to pass/fail (credit/no credit). The decision was agreed to and communicated to the district community of teachers, parents, and students.

But some families chafed. Rather than appreciate the extraordinary circumstances and understand that everyone was affected and that colleges and universities would take this into account when evaluating applicants, they took a different tack. They behaved as if their child was going to be saddled with a D– on their permanent record (transcript) and no elite, top-tier post-secondary school would even consider them for admission. College admissions officers would gaze upon the Spring 2020 grade and wonder why it was what it was. Colleges were assumed to be completely unaware of the pandemic.

My own Next Door app feed, usually filled with tales of found and lost Chihuahuas and porch piracy now featured an angry petition to Stop the madness of Credit/No Credit being imposed on district students. Petitioners asserted that the policy would cripple the district's best and brightest students, ruining them for college admissions and beyond. The email addresses of school board members were shared and a boilerplate angry missive was suggested.

They demanded that individual students be able to opt out of Credit / No Credit into letter grades if they so desired.

When I caught wind of this movement, I did what I could to stand in opposition, as you can see in the previous post. The angry petitioners were arguing for a policy that would comfort the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted.

Within hours of my action, the district announced it would acquiesce completely and without modification to the petitioners wishes. Word for word capitulation. My principal instructed faculty to direct their misgivings to their union (San Juan Teachers Association—SJTA) representatives.

The adoptee policy allows students to opt into letter grades, but they can change their mind on that no later than the end of the school year. So if the grade is looking good to them at the end of the semester, they can lock it in. If they don't like what they see, they can fall back to C/NC. Perfect!

The union agreed to this complete and total cave-in, 100% and without any pushback whatsoever. But they attempted to gaslight their dues-paying membership: in an email to be shared with all bargaining unit members, we were told of the pitched battle SJTA mounted.

"We did our best to negotiate, and we got what we could.  Most of our neighboring districts mandated teachers to give letter grades A—F.  Our union was able to reach the compromise of C/NC with the petition piece."

Here's what the Next Door petitioners were petitioning for.

'Instead of the misguided "Credit/Co Credit" policy, the district should allow ALL students the option to choose either "Credit/No Credit" OR letter grades."

Re-read the union's statement—they never said that our district was demanding X and SJTA battled them back to Y. In reality, the angry petitioners and their school board enablers demanded Y, and SJTA agreed to Y. No negotiation; no compromise.

UPDATE: I had a conversation with the president of the SJTA. It seems that the union had very little leverage in this decision. The school board and superintendent went forward with their capitulation and there really wasn't much the union could do about it. And the petitioners' demands were in line with CDE broad guidelines for what would be permissible. Still though, the objectively correct response to the pandemic closures was to adopt Credit/No Credit. And to then stand firm in that position. My district opted to appease the angry petitioners. That decision, expedient in the short term, will not age well.

This is the context necessary to understand my solution as laid out in Part 2.

1 comment:

Vince S. said...

Dean,
Interested to see what your part II, your solution looks like. I think your district's policy does put integrity of grades in question. If a kid has a B or C go with C/NC, If they have an A go with "letter grade" option. They can spin it however it puts them in the best light. If you care about the integrity of your grades you have to invent some "way" to make them earn a legitimate A. I think many teachers across the country have opted to go with the flow and look at their grades as a very approximate measure of students effort/ability.