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Op-Ed: An Open Letter to SB School Board about Grades

By Lanny Ebenstein

Dear Members of the Board:

I have followed the recent proposals to change the grading system with interest, and I'm sure you are receiving many communications on them.

My primary concern is process. I have never known as significant a policy change to be proposed for action in as short a period of time during my 45 years of involvement with the Board of Education.

It is unclear to me, as I'm sure it is to many in the community, what is being proposed at this time.

The original proposal, at the secondary level, was to replace Ds and Fs with Incompletes and No Credits. However, in reviewing the attachment for the Board meeting this week, it is said that a "New Proposal (per stakeholder input)" is that secondary "Students may earn a letter grade of A, B, C, D, or NC. Students may earn an Incomplete per existing policy."

I believe it is essential that the Board of Education retain D grades in secondary schools at this time. Eliminating D grades could cause a large spike in the number of Hispanic students, in particular, who would not graduate from high school this spring.

There are very few students who receive Ds who, immediately out of high school, attend colleges which require a grade point average to enroll.

However, there are many students in the SBUSD, whom -- if they do not receive the units which a D grade allows them to receive toward high school graduation -- would not be able to graduate from high school this spring with an Incomplete rather than a D.

It would also be very undesirable to implement a policy of eliminating D grades in secondary schools when it is so widely opposed by secondary teachers.

Also included with the attachment for this week's Board meeting are data with respect to secondary teachers' support for eliminating Ds. These data indicate that 86% of the 437 secondary certificated personnel participated in the survey, and only 20% favor implementation of a no Ds policy starting in January 2021; only 26% favor implementing a policy of no Ds in future terms.

As a member of the American Federation of Teachers (through lecturing at UCSB), it is inconceivable to me that you could institute a policy of this magnitude on less than two weeks notice with the overwhelming opposition of teachers.

Increasing summer school programs seems to be the most feasible way to address the substantial loss in education that many, especially lower socioeconomic, students have experienced as a result of the change in program to accommodate COVID-19.

To this end, I was pleased also to see in the staff report, in the "Action Plan" section: "Expanded credit/learning recovery--during & beyond traditional school year" and a "Summer extended learning plan" as options under consideration.

Thank you for your consideration.

Economist and author Lanny Ebenstein is a former member of the Santa Barbara Unified School District board of education.

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