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San Francisco school board proposes giving A’s to all students for covid-19 period as districts adopt varying grading systems

The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in San Francisco. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

The closing of most of America’s schools and the quick rush to distance learning because of the spread of covid-19 has prompted changes in the way many districts are asking teachers to grade student performance during this period.

Most districts appear to be moving to a variant of a pass/fail system for the spring semester as they attempt to implement “hold harmless” policies during a time of transition and anxiety.

In Ohio’s Perrysburg Schools, for example, officials posted to the district website a statement saying it was moving to a system in which students who usually get grades will get either a “P” for pass or an “I” for incomplete. For high school students, a “P” will have “the weight of a 4.0 for regular classes and 4.5 for Honors,” which are A’s.

“We know that the stress put on families is tremendous and we are doing our best to determine the right path to take in the education of our students,” it says. “We continue to use the analogy of flying the plane as we build it.”

Why one school district says it’s ‘most appropriate’ to stop giving kids A-F grades and move to pass/fail

Differences in districts in the state of California show the variety of approaches being implemented nationwide.

The California Education Code says, “There is nothing [in the code] which governs whether a class can be offered as credit/no credit, pass/fail or a modified A-D. Given the circumstances of COVID-19, some districts are considering a variety of options.”

In the San Diego Unified School District, students will not receive a grade lower than they received earlier in the year because of the stresses of the change to remote learning and overall anxiety.

In the South Pasadena Unified School District, students will be able to individually decide whether they want to be assessed pass/fail or by a grade, with decisions due at the end of May.

The Los Angeles Unified School District recently announced it was dropping F’s from the grading system — meaning that no student can actually fail.

One district wants to go further: A majority of the San Francisco Board of Education wants to give all students all A’s for the time they are home because of covid-19 — which some are calling “the asterisk semester.”

The idea was raised, board President Mark Sanchez said in an interview, at a meeting of the panel earlier this month.

“It came from being compassionate and understanding that our students are up against the wall, especially the most vulnerable, in this crisis,” he said. “We wanted to give them some latitude. Our board is a very sympathetic group of folks.”

Sanchez, who is a fourth-grade teacher in Daly City, said the board was serious about pursuing the idea, but he now realizes it is “probably going to be a symbolic effort.”

While colleges and universities — including the University of California and California State University systems — have sent the signal that students will not be penalized for pass/fail last-quarter evaluations for the 2019-20 period, an all-A system isn’t likely to fly, Sanchez said.

The California Department of Education and the University of California are not “leaning in the direction to allow students from our district to enter systems if we utilize this grading policy, so we are being advised by our staff to go into a different system, to go into a pass/fail system,” he said.

In addition, he said, California’s Education Code gives teachers the right to give the grades they think students deserve. “If we tell them to give everyone an A, we would be contravening state law,” he said.

The San Francisco Board of Education will meet soon to make a final decision and, Sanchez said, is likely to adopt a pass/fail system.