Community Update

Unprecedented Times

Vista Unified is committed to providing a comprehensive support system for students and families during this unprecedented global, national, state, and local crisis. We have worked tirelessly with our entire teaching and support staff and with regional organizations to respond to the needs of our community. This response places primary emphasis on the health, safety, and well-being of all of our students and staff.

We are also making tremendous efforts to provide a virtual learning environment for the purpose of continuing education for all students. I have outlined in previous community updates the tremendous success we have had so far getting students connected and engaged with their teachers.

During this transition, and in response to the stay-at-home orders from the health department, the Board and I have been compelled to make difficult decisions. Our intent is to ground these decisions in the values we have adopted as a district: Trust, Respect, Collaboration, and Equity. My recommendation as the Superintendent and the Board’s collective decision to adopt a temporary grading policy on April 9, 2020 was intended to address the unique needs of all students during this unprecedented crisis and, most importantly, to ensure that we do not further widen the opportunity gap for students who are most impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. This recommendation and subsequent decision was based on a very thoughtful analysis of information from local, regional, and national sources.

Consider the thoughts of Claudine Gay, Dean of Harvard University,

“Instructors have come to feel that they cannot assign grades equitably, given the radically different circumstances students find themselves in. We cannot make the usual comparisons in the midst of a global pandemic, and the shift to an alternative grading scheme reflects the enormity of our current situation….Were we to permit students to opt-in or opt-out of P/F grading, students who find themselves in very challenging situations would have no choice but to shift to P/F--and they would suffer in comparison to their peers as a result. A mandatory Emergency Satisfactory/Emergency Unsatisfactory system is the only way to treat all students equitably.”

These past few months have been trying for us all; however, the current challenge also presents an opportunity to see that this crisis demands of us all a broader understanding and compassion for our fellow citizens. The very phrase “we are all in this together” was developed not to promote competition among us but to bring us together as a community.

Temporary Grading Policy

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a unique environment for learning. Here are a few key points that guide our thinking as we support all students:

  • We recognize that the safety and well-being of our students and families during this pandemic crisis is our first priority. Implementing a temporary credit/no credit grading provides students with the grace, time, and flexibility to take care of themselves and their families while still engaging in distance learning and continuing their academics through our Vista Virtual School.

  • We recognize that any policy must align to our values, with emphasis on the value of equity. The COVID-19 pandemic has placed tremendous stress on every aspect of our society, including our educational system. These pressures, however, are not shared by everyone to the same degree. Some students and their families are more severely impacted than others. All students must have the same opportunity to learn and grow academically, socially, and emotionally. In times of crisis, opportunity gaps run the risk of widening across racial and economic lines. Additionally, students are susceptible to increased levels of trauma due to stress and conflict arising from this crisis.

  • We recognize that letter grades may benefit only those students with ideal learning conditions and comprehensive supports at home. Grades should not assess the home environment but rather be an accurate measure of student learning, which is difficult in this new virtual environment.

School Board Action

On Thursday, April 9, 2020, the Vista Unified School Board voted unanimously to approve Board Policy 6301. This is a temporary grading policy to address expectations for all students as a result of the shift to a virtual learning environment due to the coronavirus pandemic. As this policy only applies to the 2020 spring semester grades, we will be working collaboratively with teachers to develop a grading system for the fall term should we be required to continue with distance learning. The Temporary Grading Guidelines (AR 6301) can be found here.

Guidance from External Organizations

Guidance from the California Department of Education:

  • Local Education Agencies should weigh their policies with the lens of equity and with the primary goal of first, doing no harm to students.
  • Districts should consider how grading policies take the needs of all students into account, including those of English Learners, homeless and foster youth, and those with differing access to digital learning and other tools or materials.
Guidance from the Crescendo Education Group:
  • Student academic achievement during this temporary period may be negatively impacted due to a host of environmental factors in the distance-learning environment.
  • Student academic performance during school closures is more likely to reflect racial, economic, and resource differences.
  • Teachers are being asked to provide high-quality instruction and students are required to engage in a new distance learning environment with very little preparation.
  • If grades do need to be awarded - such as at the high school and postsecondary levels - the only grades for the second semester of the school year should be either “Pass” or “Incomplete” instead of the traditional 0-100 percentages and A-F letter grades. Schools use percentages and letter grades primarily to distinguish among students and suggest precise distinctions of course content knowledge, but this specificity is impossible when such significant doubt exists about the integrity or fairness of student performance data in a virtual environment.
  • Do not let students choose whether a course should be Pass/No Pass or graded A-F. This apparently reasonable compromise actually perpetuates inequity: it gives students with access to technology and resources the advantage of being able to earn the letter grade, while the less-resourced student cannot realistically exercise that choice.
Guidance from The Education Trust-West:
  • Institute flexible, student-centered grading criteria such as pass/no pass grading policies for the remainder of the school year. Generate a note on all students’ transcripts that explains pass/no pass grade is a result of COVID-19 related school closures.
Guidance from California colleges, universities, and affiliated organizations:
  • University of California System - The temporary suspension of the letter grade requirement in A-G courses completed in winter/spring/summer 2020 extends to all students currently enrolled in high school who may apply to UC for admission to fall 2021, 2022 or 2023. For admission purposes, UC will continue to calculate a GPA using all A-G courses completed with letter grades in grades 10 and 11, including summer terms following grades 9, 10 and 11. Courses completed with Pass or Credit grades in winter/spring/summer 2020 will not be used in the GPA calculation but will meet A-G subject area requirements. No student will be penalized in the campus admission review processes for earning Pass grades in A-G coursework during the winter/spring/summer 2020 terms.
  • California State University System - The CSU will accept grades of "Credit" or "Pass" to satisfy "a-g" requirements completed during winter, spring or summer 2020 terms. Grades of credit/pass or no credit/non-passing will not be included in the calculation of high school GPA. This applies to current students in grades 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12.
  • The Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities - AICCU institutions are modifying their policies on P/NP grades. AICCCU is committed to evaluating all pass grades for course work without prejudice and this is a hallmark of holistic review of applications and taking into consideration unique circumstances of applicants.
  • All California colleges and universities, including community colleges such as Mira Costa and Palomar - The higher education community has offered assurances regarding acceptance of Credit/No Credit grades in lieu of letter grades for A-G high school courses completed in winter/spring/summer 2020.
Guidance from Colleges and Universities Outside California:
  • Many other colleges and universities across the country have specific information regarding students not being penalized for Credit/No Credit grades. Specific information can be found here.
Guidance from NCAA:
  • For courses completed in spring and summer 2020 with a “pass” grade, the Eligibility Center will apply the credit earned in those courses toward the core-course requirement. If the core GPA would increase by assigning a value of 2.3 (the minimum GPA to qualify to compete in Division I), that value will be assigned to passed courses. If the 2.3 mark would decrease the student’s overall GPA, the core-course GPA will be calculated based only on courses with assigned letter grades from other available terms. This policy will apply to students from all grade levels who have pass/fail grades in NCAA-approved core courses in spring and summer 2020 due to the COVID-19 response.
Guidance from the Department of Defense Education Activity:
  • The Military Interstate Compact ensures that the children of military families are afforded the same opportunities for educational success as other children and are not penalized or delayed in achieving their educational goals.
  • States work to coordinate graduation requirements, transfer of records, and course placement and other administrative policies.
  • Schools can waive specific required courses if similar course work has been satisfactorily completed.

Supporting Documents and Resources