Education /

California Removes Traditional Grading in Effort to Become More Equitable

One educator claims the new practice is tantamount to 'lying' about a student's progress


Students in some of California‘s largest school districts will no longer receive a D or F grade. 

Students who fail to achieve passing grades will instead be allowed to take the tests or complete the work again.

The new grading system was introduced due to the pandemic and remote learning protocols. Supporters argue that it reduces the stress levels for already-traumatized and agitated students in the new learning environments.

Supporters also say the effort will significantly help black, Latino, and lower-income students who are statistically more impacted by the pandemic’s disruption in traditional school routines.

However, some critics contend that it dumbs down education, leaving students unable to cope with the complex realities of the modern world.

According to Ed Source, Los Angeles Unified, Oakland Unified, Sacramento City Unified, and Santa Ana are among the school districts implementing the new grading practices. 

“Our hope is that students begin to see school as a place of learning, where they can take risks and learn from mistakes, instead of a place of compliance,” Nidya Baez, assistant principal at Fremont High in Oakland Unified is quoted in the report by Ed Source. “Right now, we have a system where we give a million points for a million pieces of paper that students turn in, without much attention to what they’re actually learning.”

This new protocol, known as “competency-based learning,” has also met with much criticism from educators in the same school districts.

“I will work with any student before or after school or even on the weekend to help them learn,” Debora Rinehart, a teacher at St. Theresa School in Oakland, told Ed Source. “However, I will never lie about their knowledge level. Not reporting Ds and Fs is the equivalent of lying about a student’s progress.”

Devin Vodicka, a former superintendent of Vista Unified in San Diego County, supports the new protocol.

“We need a system that gets beyond the institutional model and provides more meaningful feedback for students,” Vodicka said. “The future is going to require less focus on time and more focus on what we can do and contribute, and the quality of our performance. We need to prepare our students for this.”

Last year, San Diego Unified School District announced it was adopting the new protocol in a meeting held in December 2020 to explain the change.

According to Nicole DeWitt, the district’s instructional support officer, the new approach is expected to “provide students multiple opportunities to demonstrate their mastery.”

DeWitt said they had already begun assessing the usual grading practices since 2018, but the pandemic added an additional level of urgency.

On review in early 2020, San Diego’s School board found that black students received a D or F 20% of the time and Hispanic students received them 23% of the time, compared with 7% for white students and 6% for Asian students.

After a meeting in July 2020, a resolution was passed that required the district to “revise grading policy to ensure there are equitable grading practices,” DeWitt said. 

New York City has enacted a similar protocol due to the pandemic learning changes. The Department of Education announced in October 2020 that pupils would not get failing grades during the 2020-21 school year.

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16 responses to “California Removes Traditional Grading in Effort to Become More Equitable”

  1. JoeSC says:

    “We need a system that gets beyond the institutional model and provides more meaningful feedback for students,” Vodicka said. “The future is going to require less focus on time and more focus on what we can do and contribute, and the quality of our performance. We need to prepare our students for this.”

    Ummm, how can you have more meaningful feedback if you falsely truncate the metric you’re using to judge competency? It’s like if you have a thermometer that you’re using to judge water temperature and it only reads from 80-120° F. You can judge lukewarm to warm, but you have no idea if it’s boiling or freezing.

  2. mguadalupe says:

    In 1991, a principal at Taft High School Chicago, Dr. William Watts, tried this approach. He kept reiterating that “Success breeds sucess”. So if you received a “C” or lower, you could retake the exam. I got all As first try. A handful of nerds like me did the same. What ended up happening was people would fail the first attempt on purpose and get the A on the second or third attempt. I ended up number 4 in a class of 400+, but if you slid down to the 12 spot that was where kids were retaking exams. Point is this does not make students better. It narrows their scope of understanding. It’s a joke to the kids that study.

  3. Patr419 says:

    They’ve been doing social progression for years

  4. likesdarkgreen says:

    I’d agree on the multiple attempts, but disagree on hiding the failing grades. I’m paying for my education, and I’d want my dollars to go as far as possible to learn, so paying for another semester for another attempt feels like a rip-off. Hiding failing grades, however, is backwards. That only makes it harder to measure performance, and I can’t maximize my confidence in the subject effectively without knowing my own progress.

    What I think is even better is if employers just stop using degrees and GPAs as the criteria for the vast majority of their jobs. They should build their own standards outside of the accreditation system so that others that earn their competence outside of universities can compete, and this will also hopefully improve the quality of graduates that do go through the universities.

  5. jhudler says:

    When they get out of school looking for a job or trade school, they discover those doors closed because they were lied to. This is how a disaffected violent criminal is created.

  6. jhudler says:

    I feel sorry for those poor Black and Hispanic students who will not receive an education because they falsely believe their grades are good enough.
    Glad my children’s schools uses percentage. I don’t care about A-F. Are they passing their classes or not, and if not what can we do to help them.

  7. Alysandir says:

    As we have learned in places such as Baltimore, educators have no vested interest in ensuring students are educated. Removing failing grades simply makes it easier for them to push failing students through the system without having to answer for it.

  8. Marcos says:

    Maybe I’m being a bleeding heart liberal when it comes to this, but getting rid of the grading and letting them try again can be good. Seeing an F, especially for young students trying hard to learn, is in fact discouraging and they most likely won’t want to try again. But I should also mention that a teacher just not caring that the student fails and doesn’t encourage them to try again is another factor.

    As for the criticism that this method won’t prepare them for the real world. High School and College never prepares you for the real world. You don’t get grades for learning how to write a resume or learning about how to grow your own food unless it is an elective or extra curricular.

    And a counterpoint, I think the 3 R’s are the ones that should keep a grading system. Those are the most important. Since we are in the information age, typing and web browsing are important too.

  9. T4man says:

    School choice. Either give vouchers or let communities handle their own education needs. There can still be public schools but make them compete for students.

  10. SNIPERBAIT66-67 says:

    Rotten Teachurs need to be whipped, and sent back to school. IF they cannot be productive, I’m certain our Coal Mines need ‘Diggers’. THIS is where Democrats belong anyway.

  11. SNIPERBAIT66-67 says:

    Perhaps it’s time these teachurs ‘identified’ as the MORONS they truly are?

  12. mjpluth says:

    It’s a simple solution:. If you have the means, get out of that fucking state

  13. kaezon says:

    Disregarding the D.I.E. aspect of this, the idea of removing the one-and-done approach to testing is something I’ve through would be a step in the right direction for the education system. “You failed our single attempt evaluation. Now we’re going to move on to a new subject and test on that.” In the professional world at least, I’m still taking standardized tests for certifications, but 1.) I get to decide on how to prepare, and 2.) in the event I fail, I get to go back to the prep stage and try again.
    I realize that in an institutionalized setting, as gross as it is, they won’t be able to customize the education nearly as much; however, surely they could identify low-scoring individuals, remediate them with more individualized plans, and re-test them.

  14. SNIPERBAIT66-67 says:

    In this way, ROTTEN, Racist incompetent Teachers will NOT be reprimanded for their lack of professional ABILITY!
    And Americans wind up sweeping China’s floors…
    Can you imagine the Marine Corps, or the AIR FORCE trying to find Warriors who can read, write and do SUMS? The DNC is turning America into Vietnam/Cambodia or rural Botswanaland!! Won’t THAT be fun?

  15. Plaguen says:

    This proves it. Race, race, race. Gender, gender, gender. Equity! We need everyone to lose motivation to succeed and pull down not push up. I mean gravity is racist. We are royally screwed here folks.

  16. Night_Coder says:

    So they will be allowed to take the tests again… What if they repeatedly fail after 20 times, or just refuse to take the test again? Will they just get a passing grade at that point? What if it’s on every assignment? Can’t finish a year with a non-grade can you?