Could schools shifting focus from yearly grade averages to mastery of material be the new normal?

SAN DIEGO — San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) board members have altered their grading system in attempts to “combat racism,” according to an article released by NBC San Diego last week.

A unanimous vote cast by the SDUSD school board last week ruled in favor of implementing multiple changes to the district’s grading system. Since then, there has been much discussion regarding the possible benefits or disadvantages these changes could have.

Instead of taking scores from tests, projects and homework collected throughout the semester and averaging a final score, teachers will instead focus on the students’ overall mastery of the subject material. 

This decision was made after recent statistics from the district revealed that 30% of all D or F grades were given to English learners, while 25% were given to students with disabilities, 23% to Native American students, 23% to Hispanic students, and 20% to Black students — while only 7% of D and F grades were given to White students. 

“I think this reflects a reality that our students have described to us, and it’s a change that’s a long time coming,” said SDUSD Vice President Richard Barrera in an interview with NBC 7. 

The new grading system strives to prevent students who may begin school late or fall behind at some point in the semester from being penalized by their final grade despite their ability to master the course material by the end of the class. 

Additionally, the system prohibits teachers from using non-material factors, such as behavior or turning work in late, to calculate students’ final averages. Instead, these aspects of performance will be addressed in the students’ citizenship grade, a measurement of success that will be shared with parents or guardians along with students’ academic grades. 

Since the unveiling of this news, there have been mixed reviews from parents. They worry if the grading system will be serving students or putting them at a disadvantage. 

For some parents, like Kevin Krown, this system could discourage students who are already dedicating themselves to their school work. 

“I understand this whole idea of equity but what does that do for those students who are already putting in the effort?,” the La Mesa College professor and father to a sophomore high school student, tells NBC 7 News. “They’re working really hard, they’re getting their work in on time and basically it’s telling them, it’s like, ‘why am I trying so hard?’”

For others like the Morongo Unified School District’s Assistant Superintendent Amy Wood, a parent with children at Lewis Middle and Franklin Elementary, this change is one that has great potential for students.

“The idea that you can make a mistake and go back and fix it is powerful and allows kids to learn and grow in a more reparative and less punitive environment,” she said at their latest school board meeting.

Another issue the new system could resolve revolves around how teachers assign letter grades, addressing a widely debated topic that has been discussed in the past in San Diego County. 

“Some teachers will give you an A grade if you score a 90 percent for a course, while others will give you an A for 88 percent or 85 percent,” reports The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Due to the system emphasizing mastery of material as opposed to the calculation of an average score, many believe it could eliminate the possibility of unfair or subjective grading. 

For many of the students attending the schools located within this large California school district, this new program could teach helpful skills regarding problem-solving and self-improvement. 

“We need a chance for more corrections for a bad grade. Students should be able to go back and redo the assignment until we get it right,” says an SDUSD student.

The next SDUSD Board of Education meeting will be this Tuesday, Oct. 27, where elements of this decision will be discussed further in detail.