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Urge PA School Board to Address Feedback Regarding Grading Policies at April 21st School Board Meeting

Original post made by Steve Toteda, Palo Alto High School, on Apr 18, 2020

On March 25th, Palo Alto School District Superintendent Don Austin made a decision to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Palo Alto Educators Association that determined, “Teachers will provide credit/no-credit grading to secondary students.”

With this, PAUSD became the first in California to adopt a credit/no-credit policy instead of grades for the second semester of the 2019/20 school year.

It is important that students and parents understand that this policy will have a significant and negative effect on the GPA of any student currently enrolled in Advanced Placement or Honors classes because of lost weighted benefit.

Since PAUSD announced its credit/no-credit policy, many large school districts cited by the California Department of Education including Los Angeles, San Diego Unified School Districts, and San Jose’s East Side Union High School District, have decided to maintain the letter grading system. In these districts, grades were assessed as of March 13 and no student will receive a grade lower than their grade as of that date (grades can only move up).

Please email the Board to urge them to take this issue to a vote! ([email protected])

The vast majority of schools boards throughout the state - those that have announced their grading system and those still in review - have undertaken a transparent process including soliciting input from other school district administrators and board members, high school department chairs, teachers and counselors to carefully weigh this important decision.

We want the same opportunity in Palo Alto.

Comments (9)

5 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 18, 2020 at 9:29 pm

But the sci at paly is grading on a 5 point AP scale and kids have to perform without instruction. During crisis students should not have to perform at their top level.

It is not pass fail and stress free when the admin at paly allows teachers to make up new grading scales that are actually pretty tough in normal times with teachers who don’t just send power points.

Give the kids a break!! Call out the teachers who have put their egos or their rubrics made a decade ago ahead of the students mental health.

By the way, there has been nothing for seniors except all new online platforms and lots of tests and a threat of a getting a failing grade from a teacher who likes rigor better than sanity. Not graduating should not be a threat but it is. It seems like these teachers live to see kids squirm . Asynchronous or synchronous squirming. Both are bad

The counseling staff is against honors credits in normal times .

12 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 18, 2020 at 11:02 pm

The district made the best decision. They need to enforce it and spend the time and effort to make the last month easy for their stressed out scared students.

There is no need for anything else. I do not care about process, just make it simple and make sure teachers comply with decisions.

Pass fail was a good solution for all the kids.

Students can keep a few samples of awesome work with comments to show they worked at honors level.

12 people like this
Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Apr 19, 2020 at 8:32 am

Why isn't the district offering instruction? Why not ask that question? Online WASC/UC a-g accredited platforms like UC Scout are already available, but Pausd refuses to offer them. While protecting its teachers, Pausd is failing its kids.

4 people like this
Posted by UC/CSU not req SAT/ACT
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 19, 2020 at 1:03 pm

UC/CSU are not requiring SAT/ACT next year, will that make GPA all the more important, hope some high schools outside the district don’t game this crisis.

9 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 19, 2020 at 5:28 pm


You really feel it's necessary to stress thousands of high school kids and redirect the focus and direction of the school board so your kids can get a few fractions of a point of GPA?

Please stop wasting the district's time with this. Let's focus on making sure the district is prepared to provide a great learning environment for what will likely be 4-12 months of non-traditional learning.

4 people like this
Posted by Amomynous
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 19, 2020 at 10:51 pm

Wasting time?

3 weeks with no instruction and then testing only and no instruction this week.

Comprehension should not be 109 per cent on students shoulders.

Work from weeks before the virus closing has never been corrected or commented in but kids have to perform as if they were taught well and are not scared.

Stop wasting my kids time with homework that us never graded and tests that only show what my kid learned from outside online crap resources.

7 people like this
Posted by Steve Toteda
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 19, 2020 at 11:25 pm

I appreciate the comments, but it's important to note that the Palo Alto School Board NEVER voted on this issue. School policy regarding such an important issue of grading was set through a one line addition to the District's MOU With the Teacher's Union on March 25th.

No matter what your view on the issue of grades or credit / no-credit is, urge the Board to vote. How can we hold our School Board Board Trustees accountable if they don't vote on important issues.

Please join the April 21, 2020 School Board Meeting online to ensure your voice is heard. The Board Meeting will take place using Zoom. Here is the connection information for this meeting:

Via Video Conference/Internet: Web Link

Via Telephone: Dial 669-900-6833, enter Webinar ID 949 9734 6242, then press #.
If asked for a participant ID or code, press #.



3 people like this
Posted by Jon Keeling
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 20, 2020 at 12:22 pm

Here is what I wrote last week to the MVLA high school district. Most important part is section 6, in case you want to skip right to that. MVLA is having another board meeting tonight.
This is a long message that I will break down into sections to save you time if you don’t have much of it. :-)

1) Background on me
2) The situation at MVLA
3) Grading options
4) My view
5) Implementation
6) Looking forward to the future
7) Teachers
8) Kids

1) Background on me:
One of my kids is a sophomore at LAHS. I have two older kids who graduated from LAHS and Paly. I have also worked with many students at MVHS & AVHS, mostly volunteering with mentoring and mental health efforts.
I come from a family of teachers and have been a teacher since 1984. I have taught well over 10,000 students on three continents. I am known for my innovative teaching style and helping students reach (for) their potential. My graduate degree included a teaching focus. When I assess my students, I provide them with useful, specific feedback. I have also done a lot of mentoring, where I work to help people holistically and inspirationally (the same way I teach and parent). I know how to teach and assess students, to motivate them and help them understand but not get frustrated by their shortcomings and to appreciate their abilities and successes. I have also done a ton of volunteering in the mental health space.
I have never been a fan of grades or test scores as the primary indicators of a student’s worth. I have always told my kids that I would like them to pass their classes but don’t care about the grades nearly as much as I do about them learning the material and fostering an appreciation for the learning process that I hope sticks with them for the rest of their life.

2) The situation at MVLA:
We have students of all types in our district. Some are pushing hard to maximize their GPA in an effort to gain access to an elite university or to be the first in their family to attend college. Some are from families with limited income, where the high school student may be working to help with the household income, taking care of younger siblings, and have limited access to wifi. Some have learning or emotional issues. Our public school system is meant to support/educate ALL of these various students. In general, they have a very good reputation for doing this.

Online learning is new to most students and teachers. It is more difficult to facilitate student discussion, distracting for many students, and assessment can be challenging. (I know…I am teaching via Zoom about 18 hours/week these days)

3) Grading options:
There are quite a few ways grading can be handled in our schools. Four of them were included in the survey sent out to parents and teachers a couple weeks ago. Several others were NOT listed. Each has its benefits and shortcomings.

4) My view:
As many of you already know, I was pushing the OPTION for EITHER a letter grade OR credit/no-credit since the idea of switching to C/NC first came up in March. I was in the debate in Palo Alto before it was even brought up in MVLA. I was the first one to bring up this idea in the MVLA board meeting on March 30. And I still believe that this would have been better than requiring everyone to go credit/no-credit, all things considered, to accommodate ALL students. It would have provided less stress for those who are currently overwhelmed with financial hardship, additional responsibilities or limited access to wifi, while keeping incentive for those working for high/higher letter grades. (Please note that Los Angeles and San Diego have offered this option and San Mateo is apparently leaning toward this in their vote tomorrow)

That said, I think it is probably too late in the semester to allow students to potentially cherry-pick which classes they want to receive a grade for. If a student is able to opt for letter grades now, I think it would have to be all-or-none. Regardless, I am fine with a policy that does not offer the choice letter grades…conditionally (see below). As I mentioned above, I am not a fan of grades in general. But I realize that they are important to some people. So I would like to offer an updated recommendation that should not only keep everyone happy but quite possibly result in an improvement over what we have had in the past…

***As I mentioned in the last board meeting, I would like to require all the teachers to enter into the system written qualitative comments about each student for each class.***

This is the way it worked when I did my undergrad at UCSC about 30 years ago: It was pass/fail (similar to C/NC but a "fail" would result if you didn't pass in P/F but in C/NC the class just drops off if you don't pass it) with an option for a letter grade. But ALL students received a written comment, regardless. Even if you did not opt for a letter grade, the equivalent grade could be inferred quite easily from the comment ("excellent work!" was an A, "very good" was a B, etc.).

***I say we push to have all the teachers write qualitative comments for all the students. This way, students can point to these on their college applications and say "I put in an A-level performance in this class." I think this is a reasonable compromise and the board does not need to overturn their decision to go with credit/no-credit for all students in all classes.***

5) Implementation:
Although I would prefer teachers to provide detailed feedback for each student, at minimum the teachers could set up templates to copy/paste and then tweak as appropriate. This does not require an entirely new skill-set for teachers, as they are used to providing feedback. It is only a minor change to what they have already been doing. I would think this should be quite simple to implement and I doubt any teacher who cares about his/her students would object.

6) Looking forward to the future:
Imagine if we switched to credit/no-credit being the default for all students, permanently...Less pressure for those who are not looking to get into the most competitive colleges and the focus could be more on learning as opposed to grades. We could get education back to its roots: focus on learning. This is a GOOD thing, isn’t it? We could set an example for other public schools to follow. I have done a ton of research in the field of education and many great education specialists are saying similar things. If we provide the OPTION to receive a letter grade AND we require teachers to add a comment for each student for each class, we could please pretty much everyone. It would only be a little more work/time for our teachers.

My hope is that if we can keep it going for the future, we could be an example for other schools to follow. (some background reading: Web Link )

7) Teachers:
As we know, our teachers are not in this profession for the money. I can tell you this from first-hand experience as a teacher who left a 20-year career in investments and technology to focus exclusively on teaching. Our teachers want what's best for our kids. If we ask them to do this for their students, I think/hope there would be no push-back. And we need the teachers to be on our side. We rely on them to help our kids learn. As with nurses and several other professions, they do it because they care more about the people than for the money. At times like this, we parents and administrators should be supporting them, not fighting against them.

8) Kids:
And the ones we should be fighting FOR are our kids. That doesn’t mean juts fighting for our own kid(s). We should be fighting for ALL of them. And not just for their ability to pass classes or get good grades in classes. We should be fighting for them to have the best opportunities to LEARN and to be inspired to learn and develop and use their creativity and compassion and maintain a positive attitude.

I want ALL of our students to have the opportunity to do their best and to be recognized for their efforts without unnecessary stress. Let’s show compassion and support for ALL of our students.

Our primary duty as parents and educators is to help prepare our kids to survive (and hopefully thrive) by themselves after they leave home. What are we teaching them about life? As a teacher, mentor, parent and parenting coach, I think this is a very important decision we are facing right now. I want our kids to know that we care about ALL of them. Not all of them should be required to get a letter grade. Not all of them should be required to simply be given credit without acknowledging their effort and achievement. All of them deserve to be given opportunity and motivation.

If YOU were the student right now, what would you want YOUR parents/teachers/administrators to do? I fight for my kids. And I fight for others. I always have. And I always will.

2 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 20, 2020 at 9:44 pm


Well said.

Please realize some teachers are pushing back and saying things lie, “ get a B or I will give you a failing final grade. Or.. the new grading scale is 1.5 and you will fail if you don’t maintain a 3.5 on ao testing sites without instruction. The top staff has the right idea but needs to look at what is happening by talking to parents or looking at schoology

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