William S. Hart Union High School District students may soon have the option to change their distance learning classes to letter grades or a pass/no-pass system.
During an emotional meeting that had board members expressing contrasting opinions via teleconference Wednesday night, the board ultimately decided to instruct district administrators to construct a proposal concerning the new grading policy.
The new system would allow students who are earning an A, B or C letter grade to get it, or take a pass in the course, if they so choose, according to board President Linda Storli. If students receive a D, it will appear as them receiving “credit” for the course. Students who receive an “F” or fail grade would receive a “no credit.”
“The child can choose what they want to do in each individual class,” said Storli. “So in biology, I can choose to keep my ‘A’ — if I’ve been not doing as well in my algebra class, I can choose to take a credit/no credit.”
Superintendent Mike Kuhlman said the district, along with teachers, was suggesting this structure because they wanted to ensure students continued to show up for their distance learning classes and continue working between now and the end of the school year.
Students who had a failing grade before March 20 would be able to receive a “no credit,” Kuhlman said.
Storli said the district is also working to find a way that seniors who are credit-deficient may have their year slightly extended so they can complete their courses.
Board member Cherise Moore took into account a number of factors, she said, that made this decision difficult, and said each student was likely having a unique experience at home due to a variety of issues this year, including COVID-19. She said she was opposed to an option that would cause students to fail.
“I don’t think anyone should fail because there are so many things that are out of their control, beyond their control,” said Moore. “I think our teachers need to be given grace and trust as we consider what we are looking at for grades because many of them are extremely stressed, too.”
Moore said she spoke with some Advanced Placement students, a group who normally excel at academics. She said the students had said they had struggled in the beginning and were concerned about being able to maintain their distance learning grades for the next six or seven weeks of school.
“I just don’t know how we can have failure as an option,” said Moore.
Board member Joe Messina said during the hour-long discussion that it is his belief that students should have to work for their grades, and should not receive a desirable outcome if they do not put the work in.
Gina Woltman, a licensed clinical psychologist and parent of a senior at Saugus High School, submitted a comment to the board during the meeting saying that in her field she has seen high levels of depression and anxiety in recent weeks. She said with the addition of financial troubles and personal troubles for families, students’ grades should not be as stressful as the district’s pending pass/no pass policy.
“I believe that every student should pass all of their classes, graduate and receive a high school diploma,” she said. “To take that away from students when there have been multiple tragedies and school closures this year is unconscionable.”
Kuhlman said during the meeting that parents have contacted him about some students who have been negatively impacted by the virus, from being sent home with no internet, to their parents being diagnosed with COVID-19 to students even trying to complete their classwork despite themselves being diagnosed with COVID-19.
“This is a tough, tough decision,” said Storli. “We really dug in, talked and said what we felt about it and we came out with the idea that we’re going to work on this in the next two weeks, and come up with something definitive in the next meeting.”