Teachers Balance No mark

PAUSD promotes “No Mark” over F grades to reduce achievement disparities, encourage second chances
Art by Charlotte Liu
Art by Charlotte Liu

In efforts to narrow the achievement disparity between underrepresented minorities and the rest of the student body, PAUSD has begun promoting the use of “No Mark” to replace F grades and Pass to replace D grades.
Board of Education Trustee Jennifer DiBrienza said the achievement disparity is not a result of a student’s ability but rather the lack of a second chance.
“Kids not finding success in a class actually ran across all demographics, but disproportionately the ones who were not Latinx were getting that ‘No Mark’ and a chance to make it up where the Latinx kids were not,” DiBrienza said.
According to Principal Brent Kline, “No Mark” is a temporary grade given when a teacher has determined that a student has not completed enough work to have an accurate assessment of their abilities.
The metric for determining what counts as sufficient work, however, is subjective and placed at the individual
teacher’s discretion.
“It is dependent upon what the student has done or not done and determined by the teacher, whether there’s going to be an appropriate time for the student to make it up possibly, or there’s not enough information,” Kline said.
DiBrienza said minority students are disproportionately hurt by current grading policies.
“Latinx students are six times more likely than their whiter peers to get an F than a ‘No Mark,’” DiBrienza said.
DiBrienza also said if the work is not made up by a certain timeframe, the student will receive the grade they would have originally received, most likely an F.
A “No Mark” does not replace any other letter grade, as PAUSD considers Ds and above as passing grades for graduation purposes.
While “No Marks” have always been an option for PAUSD teachers to use, students mainly had to self-advocate to receive one.
“Some subgroups of our population were advocating for a ‘No Mark,’ and therefore given a chance to make up that work and get a better grade, and other students were not getting that opportunity, whether because they weren’t advocating for it, or it wasn’t being offered to them or they didn’t know it existed,” DiBrienza said.
Kline said receiving a “No Mark” has several academic advantages compared to an F.
“F is a huge deficit in the GPA because F holds 50 more points than any other grade,” Kline said.
While Fs and Ds drop students’ GPAs, “No Marks” and Passes do not.
School Board representative and junior Karthi Gottipati raised concerns about the policy being exploited for abuse.
“If you’re doing poorly in a class (and) you have a C, you drop your grade on purpose to get into that D to F range in the hope that your teacher will provide you a new mark, and you’ll be able to make that up to full credit later,” Gottipati said.
However, Gottipati also said systemic change is a positive.
“The best possible option would be to make the system apply equitably, as opposed to just getting rid of it because it has issues,” Gottipati said.
Kline said the second chance a “No Mark” gives opens up new learning opportunities for students.
“It has a significant positive impact in terms of students’ ability to maintain eligibility in outside events and organizations,” Kline said. “It also allows students (to) take a class that’s not as difficult and would continue to fulfill the graduation requirement, because currently, if you fail a class, you need to retake that same class.”
Gottipati said the flexibility of a “No Mark” option provides students with more chances of proving their academic ability.
“It definitely makes sense to provide an opportunity to make up classes if you get super sick (or) something happens to you that makes you unable to do well in the class,” Gottipati said. “That shouldn’t impact you, and you should be able to make that up, because I believe in second chances, and I think providing those second chances are important.”

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