By Katrina Ortman, Staff Writer
// After over a week of public health warnings, school closures, and distance learning, it seemed like little more could be done to upend the course of normal life further. However, students flocked to their phones, and frantically texted their friends after an alarming email sent to the Acalanes Union High School District (AUHSD) announced an unexpected change in grading.
Aida Glimme, Associate Superintendent of Educational Services, released information on March 23 regarding the implementation of new grading guidelines from the California Department of Education (CDE). Instead of receiving a letter grade, AUHSD students’ transcriptions will show “Credit” (CR) or “No Credit” (NC) for the fourth quarter and the second semester.
Within minutes of viewing the email, classmates communicated with one another, meaning that many heard of the grade changes from their peers instead of seeing Glimme’s official announcement themselves.
“I was confused at first. I didn’t really understand what it meant or how it would be executed. I was also confused about why it would be implemented,” sophomore Molly Ransdell said.
AUHSD Distance Learning Guidelines state that the district took several variables apart from new CDE guidelines into account when changing the grading system. Updates on school closures, Governing Board policies, college and university decisions, and local health conditions influenced the decision.
Students attribute the change as a response to distance learning, which teachers are still adapting to, testing out possible education platforms such as Zoom, Youtube, and Google Classroom. Developing tests poses a particular challenge to teachers, as there is no clear method of discouraging academic dishonesty.
“Tests administered at home are going to look very different because there is no one to keep an eye on all of the students at once to prevent cheating,” Ransdell said. “Giving specific letter grades could end up being kind of unfair, in a way.”
Along with smoothing out the academic playing field, students feel that the CR/NC system will decrease student stress stemming from the current global pandemic and the switch to distance learning.
“It is likely a way to relieve stress of students, which is much appreciated. [Administration members] are likely taking into account how hard the transition to online learning could be for some people,” sophomore Autumn Long said.
On the other hand, students feel stress over the lack of information on the change. AUHSD has yet to release instructions on what constitutes a CR or NC grade and what that will mean in terms of college applications.
“I got a few B’s last semester, and I was really counting on getting A’s this semester so I could show colleges I improved,” junior Meghan Baginski said. “Now, they’ll know I did acceptable, but I really need to be able to show them I did well.”
Students predict the quality of their work to be another aspect of their educational lives that the grading system will impact. Without the pressure to achieve an “A” on their transcription, students believe their motivation levels will decrease. The absence of such a goal makes it easier to do well in class, but it eliminates the encouragement of competition.
“People always want to be the best at anything they do; it’s always a competition. Getting rid of the letters removes that ‘trophy’ and levels everything out,” Ransdell said.
However, it is unclear as of right now whether planning for the next school year will force students to participate in class at normal levels despite their early predictions of dwindling motivation.
“I think juniors are going to keep it up with the one or two teachers they want letters of recommendation from,” Baginski said.
For students who fear the effect of the CR/NC grading system on transcriptions, AUHSD lists two future grade considerations addressing the issue.
In the unlikely event that school closures end soon, leaving “significant time for traditional classroom-based instruction,” AUHSD will reassess the situation and consider returning to letter grades.
Additionally, AUHSD will discuss a system where students may choose to use either their third-quarter letter grade or a fourth-quarter CR grade as their final grade for the second semester. Administration will provide this option to students based on successful individual completion of distance learning.
As AUHSD continues to make decisions, they will release informative updates to the community while notifying staff. Current information is available on the AUHSD Distance Learning Guidelines document.
“I think that the higher up people are kindly taking into consideration those for whom this pandemic is very problematic,” Long said. “For those whose parents lost jobs, those with more severe mental health issues that have been impacted by this, and any other of the countless issues people could be having in this time.”
Linked below is the Distance Learning Guidelines for Parents/Guardians and Students.