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The Campanile

Lack of clear-cut direction surrounding online learning affecting students’ grades

When news broke on March 25 that the Palo Alto Unified School District was implementing a credit/no credit grading system to combat the effects of COVID-19 on distance learning, the decision was immediately met with controversy and confusion.

Many students didn’t know how credit/no credit would affect their hard-earned grades, and a general reluctance by the district to fully explain its decision allowed rumors to spread.

While The Campanile understands that the district had limited time to formulate its approach to graded, distance-learning, we think district officials and Paly administrators should have better explained the credit/no credit grading system, including how it was selected as a solution and how it affects students.

In the immediate aftermath of Santa Clara County’s order to close schools, students were able — and encouraged — to continue their learning through optional Flexible Learning Options assigned by their teachers. Once the decision was made that grades would become credit/no credit FLOs became Required Online Learning Experience. But, often the first assignments for the graded Required Online Learning Experiences revisited content from the FLOs, putting students who had skipped the optional work behind.

The grading for ROLEs is also confusing, as it differs from class to class and even within departments. For example, within the math department, some classes give assignments numerical grades and others use the “proficiency” model.

In the first weeks of ROLEs, the grading system was unclear due to the credit/no credit designation. For some classes, students were under the impression that turning in what would have been C or D level work last semester would be sufficient to pass the current one, while in other classes teachers introduced a tiered credit/no credit system.

Class assignments graded out of zero, one or two points, combined with some teachers’ requirement that no assignments could be skipped, created a confusing situation for students with the potential for seven different requirements for seven different classes.

While The Campanile recognizes anticipating the pandemic was impossible, it is also true that California is a state with a history of devastating fires, earthquakes and school shootings. Because of this, we would have hoped that the district had had the foresight to create an emergency learning plan that, however basic, could have been used to transition to online learning with a clear and uniform grading policy in the event of an emergency.

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