The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School Unified School District has officially revised its grading policy for the spring semester in an effort to reflect the challenging circumstances that students have faced this year.
Students were last on campus Thursday, March 12 and have since had to deal with a number of challenges outside of the classroom. Some have seen their parents struggle financially while others rely on the district to provide them with devices that will still allow the young scholars to access their distance learning curriculum.
“Students and families have demonstrated flexibility and perseverance during this unprecedented time,” Superintendent Ben Drati said. “Our teachers have worked hard to adapt to teaching remotely and seek to stay connected to all students and families in this challenging time,” but school closures have not allowed them to properly observe students so the district felt it was critical to take an in-depth look at its grading policy and how it can best adapt to the current reality.
Jacqueline Mora, SMMUSD’s assistant superintendent of educational services, outlined the changes to this semester’s grading policies last week, when she detailed how the process included district leadership, principals, counselors, advisors, and teachers. “Additionally, it incorporates the guidance that was provided by the California Department of Education and the Los Angeles County Office of Education, and UCs and CSUs on evaluation and grading,” Mora said.
The recently approved policy, which will only remain in effect this semester, states that every student between transitional kindergarten and fifth-grade will have a written project due by the end of the year.
“Classroom teachers will not assign number grades or marks for any area,” Mora said. “Instead, teachers will provide ongoing feedback to students and families that will culminate with a written narrative that reflects student’s performance over the course of the year, including progress made during distance learning. The narrative will be a holistic assessment of student learning and progress that will identify areas of strength and provide feedback for areas of growth. That includes suggestions for next steps.”
At the middle school level, teachers will assign a credit or no credit for the second semester and will provide ongoing feedback to students and families on the progress they’ve made during grading period six, Mora said. The credit or no credit grade will not be calculated in the grade point average, but students are expected to participate during distance learning to the extent their circumstances allow.
“If students who were not passing at grading period 5 do not demonstrate growth during the distance learning period,” the policy states, “(then) a grade of ‘No Credit’ may be issued, at the teacher’s discretion.”
Mora said high school teachers in Malibu and Santa Monica will assign letter grades based on student’s performance from assignments that were due Friday, March 13 — one day after students were dismissed due to Covid-19.
“These grades will be referred to as the ‘baseline.’ Teachers will issue grades for the semester that are the same as the letter grade issued for the baseline,” Mora added, explaining that teachers can also issue final grades that are higher than the baseline if students show they have made sufficient gains in learning from the work completed during distance learning.
High-schoolers will also have the option to take a Credit or No Credit grade, instead of a letter grade, for any course they are taking this semester.
“Students in 12th grade must select this option on or before June 5, 2020,” but freshmen, sophomores and juniors have until June 10, according to SMMUSD’s policy. Teachers will continue to provide assignments throughout the distance learning period. These assignments and grades will be entered into the Illuminate grade book to provide students and parents with an update of their course grades, so families can make a decision that is best for their child’s future.
Prior to the approval of the new grading policy, Board member Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein said, “One reason I am so supportive of this is that I believe that this policy for this semester is going to help alleviate some of the anxiety and the fear for some of our most vulnerable students in the district.”
Board president Jon Kean commended the resolution for its flexibility, stating: “The goal was to leave as few students harmed by this situation as possible.”
Drati added in a letter Friday, “We recognize the challenge that distance learning presents to many families and our school board feels this is the most equitable method to measure student progress this year. Every effort will be made by school staff to connect with students and families to support their well-being and academic success during the distance learning period.”