High school students get higher marks despite distance learning

Educators warn data from this fall may be flawed

After a semester of distance learning, preliminary grades show significantly more high school students this year have received top marks than the previous year while poor or failing grades remained stable or just slightly up, public school officials said Monday.

San Francisco Unified School District staff indicated the higher number of As could be partly from credit or no credit marks given in lieu of grades for the spring semester. The analysis compared grades from the second marking period in each academic year, which educators warned may be flawed.

“All groups are seeing an increase in numbers of As that have been given,” said Ritu Khanna, SFUSD chief of research, planning, and assessment. “It’s telling you that very few Bs and Cs were given out.”

Social science and math saw the biggest jumps, from 46 percent receiving As last year to 58 percent of students so far this year for the former, and from 40 percent to 52 percent of students receiving As for the latter. For science, 45 percent of high school students received As last year compared to 55 percent this year, while language arts went from 43 percent to 53 percent.

The percentage of Ds and Fs increased just slightly, with language arts and mathematics both increasing by 1 percent from 17 percent and 19 percent, respectively. Science went from 15 percent failing to 17 percent, while social science went down from 15 percent to 14 percent.

The percentage of students on track to graduate high school jumped from 72 percent last school year to 76 percent this year.

District staff noted that underserved groups including African American students, Hispanic/Latino students, and Pacific Islander students continued to record lower grades overall, a problem that has plagued the district since long before the pandemic.

Among those groups, however, the number of students on track to graduate also increased this year, from 44 percent to 50 percent for Black students, 48 percent to 54 percent for Latino students, and 51 to nearly 60 percent for special education students.

Grade summaries for students in sixth through eighth grades found a different trend. The number of middle school students receiving As overall dropped nearly 1 percent while those receiving Ds or Fs jumped from 8 percent to over 13 percent.

Elementary school progress was not presented, as younger students don’t receive letter grades. Their marks were not made available by SFUSD officials.

Several educators expressed concern that the data is severely flawed and should not be used to consider changes.

“I don’t think this data should be seen as anything significant and anything to make any kind of policy change,” said Ellen Kerr, an educator at George Washington High School. “I am not in favor of grade inflation, however, I don’t think it’s valid to compare data from distance learning to data that was not from distance learning, because we have been told by our administrators to be flexible.”

School Board member Alison Collins assured educators that there is no policy proposed regarding grades. She also agreed that, while it was important to follow patterns, officials couldn’t read too much into a comparison of grades from wildly different years in education.

Committee discussion instead turned to the larger issue of fair grading, part of an ongoing discussion within the district.

“Whether it’s about student-based grading, whether it’s about capstone projects, whether it’s about grading for equity, they are having these conversations,” said Bill Sanderson, SFUSD assistant superintendent of high schools. “I would like to see those conversations moved to a more formal conversation.”

Collins proposed working with groups like the Student Advisory Council or Human Rights Commission to convene town halls for a sustained conversation.

HS Grades MP2 Summary (for BOARD) by Sara Gaiser on Scribd

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