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AUHSD Parents Petition to Change Grading Policy

By Kayli Harley and Stella Heo, Online Editors-in-Chief

// Amidst the various uncertainties about the status of the nation’s toilet paper supply and the questions arising about whether or not hygiene existed before this pandemic, a less widespread yet prominent concern circulated throughout the Acalanes Union High School District (AUHSD) community regarding the method teachers will use to determine students’ grades.

   After AUHSD decided to record fourth-quarter grades as “credit” or “no credit” on March 23, many parents from across the district petitioned administrators to offer students a choice between “credit” or “no credit” or a letter grade on their transcripts.

   The petitioners argue that giving students a choice in what their grade will ultimately look like will not only reduce feelings of stress that already exist because of the coronavirus (COVID-19), but also more accurately reflect the hard work students exhibited throughout the fourth quarter and second semester. 

   Parents supporting the petition urged the district to allow interested students to obtain semester letter grades based on their fourth-quarter work, using their third-quarter grade as a base. As suggested by the petition, a teacher’s assessment of the student’s fourth-quarter performance would help determine the student’s semester grades as long as the assessment would not negatively impact a student’s pre-existing third quarter grade.

   The petition gained popularity quickly. Originally, 504 petitioners signed the Google document provided. After switching to a digital petition on change.org, over 500 people signed by the second day and over 745 by the third day. As of April 8, there are over 995 signatures in favor of the petition.

   Acalanes parent RJ Fleischmann is one of the district parents in favor of the petition. The parent of both a junior and a senior, Fleischmann understands the changing circumstances of distance learning at this time and how that may impact students. 

   “There is too much uncertainty and inconsistency around how this ‘learn from home’ is being implemented class by class and teacher by teacher, we really feel much more comfortable about having a uniform policy. We are just not seeing it consistently or thoroughly implemented,” Fleischmann said. 

   Many students initially did not know about the petition until hearing about it from their peers, some of whom promoted it on social media. 

   “My mom told me about one that she signed but I found the one that I signed that was open to students from someone’s Snapchat story,” Acalanes sophomore Ella Dunderdale said.  

   Instead of signing the petition themselves, some students influenced their parents to sign it.  

   “My mom asked me if I wanted her to sign it and I said yes because it would be nice to at least have the option to get grades instead of the credit or no credit thing,” Acalanes sophomore Heidi Heffelfinger said.

   Those supporting the petition argue that a letter grade would better represent the efforts of hard-working students. 

   “For me specifically, I have been working hard all year and am trying to find ways to adapt to our new situation and I don’t think that the change to online would have a large effect on my grades, so I would love the opportunity to take grades and be able to have more examples to show colleges,” Dunderdale said.

   The effect of a “credit” or “no credit” policy would have on students taking Advanced Placement (AP) and honors classes, both of which affect a student’s weighted grade point average (GPA), also concerned supporters of the petition. 

   “I also am taking some weighted classes and it would be a bummer to not have a GPA that reflects the accelerated courses and all the hard work I have done this semester,” Dunderdale said.

   Supporters also argue that having letter grades will benefit students who want to apply to University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) schools. On March 31, UC decided to relax requirements for undergraduate admissions and said they would accept credit or no credit grades. CSU followed the UC decision. Petitioners argue that if students don’t have the opportunity to choose whether or not they receive letter grades, students’ GPAs will be negatively affected and may worsen the opportunity for student admission.

   Because there will be no negative consequences for students who do not complete assignments, some noted that the petition allows less academically inclined students to receive a semester letter grade that is the same as more hard-working students. 

   “With either situation, one side isn’t fair. If we get letter grades, it gives an unfair advantage to students who usually slack off. But if you make it just credit or no credit, you are giving an unfair disadvantage to AP and honors students,” Dunderdale said.

   Some against the petition believe that letter grades are an inaccurate form of reflecting a student’s performance during the fourth quarter because the difficulty in assessments would be different before and after moving to distance learning. 

   “Someone might have an A because the class is a lot easier now or they might get a D because it’s a lot harder. There is really not that much of a way colleges are going to be able to know that aside from the difference in first and second semester grades,” Acalanes sophomore Kyra Ariker said. 

   Despite many AUHSD community members strongly supporting the petition, the Board will stay true to the policy instituted for fourth-quarter grades and will continue to evaluate the options for semester grades. 

   “Fourth-quarter grades will be on a credit or no credit basis. The district is currently considering whether providing a choice to utilize third quarter letter grades as the semester grades is feasible and examining the pros and cons to such a method. It is an extremely complicated issue,” AUHSD Superintendent John Nickerson said. 

   Acalanes parent and teacher Michael Buchel expressed that if the Board changes the grading policy to accommodate the petition’s requests, he would need to alter the way he teaches to better monitor his students. He believes that the current focus of the policy reflects the best interest of a student’s education. 

   “There is just no way that I would be accurately assessing my students’ learning if I was totally reinventing the wheel on the fly in this environment,” Buchel said. “For me, I am thankful that our focus is just on making sure that we try to help our students learn what they need to know for the course that they are in.”

   Ultimately, both those in favor of and opposed to the petition want the district to best support students while circumstances continue to change.

   “I think there is probably a lot of stress around grades enough already, especially in our community, and then you add the stress of social isolation, and you add the stress of no physical activity really, and maybe this takes a little bit of that stress away and feels like they have a little more control over their own destiny,” Fleischmann said.

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