Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Grade Inflation Pandemic of 2020, Part 2: The Solution

Call me Physics Oprah. Because everyone on my roster gets an A this semester. Everyone.

If you didn't read Part 1 (below), you won't realize why I have adopted this grading solution.

After you read Part 1, you may not like this solution. I do not like this solution. But Part 1 details how all the teachers in the San Juan Unified School District were needlessly and deliberately thrown into a no-win scenario. And there are no good solutions to a no-win scenario.

The object lesson provided by the highest-paid district leadership and the dues-collecting union officials couldn't be clearer:
Angry, misguided, vocal minorities operating on incorrect information are to be respected and appeased. 
You could start with a well-reasoned, correct and deliberative position. But abandon it without a fight when any opposition is mounted. Ill-informed? Misguided? It doesn't matter. It's opposition, so capitulation is the expedient response.

I don't like it. It's a policy that comforts the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted. But it wasn't my call. I argued against it to no avail.

But the call has been made and I must roll with it.

It's clear that none of the decision-makers have ever been classroom teachers. If they had, they would realize that they were asking teachers to keep a double set of gradebooks: one set for students happy with the default C/NC and a second for students who were petitioning for letter grades. My god.

I am sure that after throwing teachers under the bus, district and union leadership imagined energetic and innovative teachers would find some way to thread the eyeless needle and develop a second set of online/distance learning policies that would keep students fully engaged with powerful teaching and learning.

And they may be onto something. A colleague compared his Unit 5 and Unit 6 test scores. The Unit 5 test was administered in a secure classroom setting. The average score was under 40%. His Unit 6 test administered online. The average was over 100%. He had clearly made a successful transition to online learning and his students were shining in this new environment. Only a hardened cynic would so much as suggest that elevated Unit 6 scores may have been influenced by cheating of any kind.

So yes, I'm giving all my students A's. Because I have no idea what each of them is up against, but I do know exactly what I'm up against. I will share the news of this obvious grade inflation as far and wide as I can. Admissions officers at colleges and universities need to know: I'm giving all my students A's for Spring 2020. And I'm not the only one. Check out this news from San Francisco. The angry, misguided petitioners' victory is entirely pyrrhic.

I'm giving all my students A's. Because when everyone gets an A, no one gets and A.

But doesn't that hurt students who could have distinguished themselves from their classmates with a performance-based A supported by documentary evidence? Yes it does. But in Spring 2020, we do not possess the means to assemble that performance-based documentary evidence.

That's why Credit / No Credit was the sole correct solution to the circumstances. Those are the only honest grades that can be earned this semester. But the district abandoned honesty. And so will I.

Do colleges and universities need to populate their freshman classes with appropriately capable students? Yes they do. But the Spring 2020 grades in your course (and many courses across the country) may not be an honest reflection of students' capabilities. True. Somehow, colleges will need to overcome The Grade Inflation Pandemic of 2020. I have confidence in their abilities to do so.

Primary source documentation available in the comments.


Phyz said...

From the school district:

Good afternoon,

The district and SJTA previously issued a side letter agreement regarding grading practice for the remainder of the year in light of our COVID-19 response and distance learning efforts. In consideration of additional guidance issued on April 1 by the California Department of Education, as well as feedback from practitioners, students and families, a revised side letter of agreement has been reached to address and clarify concerns around high school grading. (Please note, this revised agreement applies only to our high schools. Additional guidance is forthcoming for elementary grades. Middle grades at both K-8s and middle schools will continue to follow the original side letter of agreement sent out on March 27.)

I encourage you to read the attached document in full. A few important highlights:

3rd quarter or 3rd term practices remain unchanged from the original side letter of agreement
4th quarter or 4th term marks will remain Credit or No Credit by default.
Students will have the option to petition for a letter grade for the 4th quarter or term following the process outlined in the side letter of agreement
Progress reports will be provided to all students indicating Credit or No Credit on May 8. If a student is receiving a mark of No Credit, multiple attempts should be made to reach the student and family. Students who are not responsive shall be referred to the site administrator for follow-up.

It is our shared intent to provide the supports needed by all of our learners to be successful and reach their goals. These changes are made in recognition that each of our students comes from a unique position and we hope to offer each the best opportunity to support their future needs.


Rick Messer
Assistant Superintendent, Secondary Education

Phyz said...

My response.

Hello Mr. Messer,

I will be granting anyone on my roster a letter grade of A for S2. I will not be asking for documentary evidence of engagement with curriculum after 3/13/2020. Everyone gets an A by virtue of being on my roster. I will actively encourage colleagues to do the same.

Kindly direct any concerns about this change in my grading policies to Bill Simmons at SJTA. I do not intend to respond to any concerns on this matter. I have instructed Bill to handle this for me.

Dean Baird said...

Here's what went out to families

To meet the challenges of the COVID-19 response and help adapt to the rapid changes involved with the shift to distance learning, San Juan Unified high schools will use a default of credit or no credit for the fourth quarter/term. This means students will either earn credit for their course toward graduation requirements or not earn credits toward graduation but they will not, by default, receive a letter grade nor will their grade point averages (GPA) be impacted either positively or negatively. For many students, this will be the best option in the distance learning model. The University of California and California State University system, as well as many of the top private universities in the nation, have endorsed this model and shared that it will not impact a student’s ability to earn college admission.

However, we also recognize that for a variety of reasons students may want to earn a letter grade. For example, this could be especially important for students working to increase their GPA. To support all of our learners, our high schools will allow students to petition for a letter grade for the fourth quarter or term.

The process to petition for a letter grade has been established as follows:

Notify the teacher in writing (via email) that the student is interested in petitioning for a letter grade in the class NO LATER THAN MAY 1.
Students petitioning for a letter grade will receive regular feedback regarding grade progress.
Teachers will notify students of their letter grade, and the impact that any remaining work may have on that grade, by May 29.
Students who have petitioned for a grade may change their request to credit or no credit no later than noon on June 9.
Student’s final grade will reflect the grade/mark of A-F, credit or no credit based upon completion of this process.
Students with questions about this process should reach out to their teacher or school counselor.

Kevin Black said...

If it makes you feel any better this is basically happening nationally at colleges and universities. Certainly for our graduate program we are basically just going to have to ignore this semester. So don't feel too bad. Everyone knows grades are meaningless this semester.