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The Student News Site of Sunny Hills High School

The Accolade

The Student News Site of Sunny Hills High School

The Accolade

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Trustees to meet today, April 23, in special session to discuss Fullerton Joint Union High School District’s end-of-the-semester grading policy because of COVID-19-related school closures

A screenshot of the online notice that can be accessed from the Fullerton Joint Union High School District’s website.

You can read about the decision that the Fullerton Joint Union High School District made here.

Trustees for the Fullerton Joint Union High School District [FJUHSD] will hold a special board meeting today, April 23, to review any recommendations and hear any public comments regarding spring semester grade reports with a likely decision to follow.

The 4 p.m. meeting — previously unscheduled and posted on the FJUHSD website Wednesday — will be held via the Zoom web platform instead of the board chambers at the district office “to protect public health and prevent the spread of COVID-19,” according to the FJUHSD online website notice.

A link was also provided for anyone from the public who would like to watch the Zoom session.

Thursday’s meeting comes after the state Department of Education decided last month that each public school district should be responsible for how spring semester grading will be determined since many campuses closed down because of the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March.

“Many parents and students have had questions about how students will be graded for interrupted courses being completed through distance learning, whether courses can be graded as pass or credit instead of assigned letter grades, and the impact of those decisions on college admissions and high school graduation requirements,” according to an online article from the state education department titled, “FAQs on Grading and Graduation Requirements.”

The “FAQs” emphasized the idea that districts “should weigh their [grading] policies with the lens of equity and with the primary goal of first, doing no harm to students,” which is the key factor that FJUHSD trustees will be considering when determining the spring semester end-of-the-year grading policy for teachers.

“There is nothing in the California Education Code which governs whether a class can be offered as credit/no credit, pass/fail or a modified A–D,” according to the online article. “Given the circumstances of COVID-19, some districts are considering a variety of options.”

It cited Palo Alto Unified School District’s resolution to issue students credit/no credit instead of letter grades as an example of what “doing no harm to students” means. The most recent grading decision among Orange County school districts came on April 14 when board members for the Irvine Unified School District sided with Palo Alto’s credit/no credit option.

But before that on April 10, trustees for the Orange Unified School District went with the modified A-D format, while the Los Angeles Unified School District’s [LAUSD] superintendent announced that no student in his district would receive an “F” grade this semester.

No information was given as to what the FJUHSD’s and the Fullerton Secondary Teachers Organization’s [FSTO] grading recommendation to the school board will be tonight. FSTO union president John Marvin declined to provide any information about the union’s position.

But some students in social science teacher David Fenstermaker’s History of the Americas and Advanced Placement Psychology said Fenstermaker had told them April 16 that he would be more lenient in his end-of-the-semester grading policy. 

Students said Fenstermaker announced in an online session that an “A” would be an 86 percent or above, a “B” would be a range of 85-72 percent and a “C” would be a range of 71-58 percent. Previously, according to Fenstermaker’s syllabus, an “A” was 89.6 percent or above, a B was 89.5-79.6 percent and a C was 79.5-69.6 percent.

Fenstermaker did not respond to email requests for an interview.

Given the variety of grading options, several Sunny Hills students and some parents have expressed their concern about how the board should vote regarding the grading policy for spring semester report cards.

Juniors Tyler Pak and Andrew Ngo sent separate emails to the FJUHSD board of trustees expressing their support for allowing students to pick whether to shift their grades to pass/fail or keep the letter grade they earned by the end of the spring semester. 

“This will be beneficial to all parties as students who have worked hard to achieve their grades these past few months will get the grade they deserve, while others who struggle with distanced learning and feel as though they do not get a fair chance to raise their grades will be appeased,” Pak wrote in his email to the five-member board. 

The junior also mentioned another option similar to the LAUSD option in which students’ grades before quarantine cannot be negatively affected but can be raised. This way, students will not lose motivation for academic success. 

Ngo agreed, stating in his email, “The conventional grading system is the next best alternative. Students should have a greater incentive to do well in their studies.”

Junior Ella Eseigbe, an International Baccalaureate student in Fenstermaker’s History of the Americas Class, also wants the district to stick with letter grades for end-of-semester report cards.

“I like Mr. Fenstermaker’s way of changing things the best because it gives a little room for our letter grades to stay the same as they are or get better if our percentages drop during online learning,” Eseigbe said. 

Fellow IB student in the same class, junior Kathryn Aurelio, is also grateful for the opportunity. 

“[Fenstermaker] knows how to be flexible and account for unforeseen circumstances,” Aurelio said.

Jenifer Nece, a parent from the PTSA who’s in charge of the Grad Nite committee, argues that Sunny Hills should continue with letter grading while allowing for some flexibility and creativity. 

“I think that teachers and students staying in communication is really important, and teachers need the freedom to adjust curriculum,” Nece said. “The only way that works is by keeping clear communication.”

Some students like sophomore Ashley Hoang, however, are hoping the FJUSHD trustees follow the lead of Palo Alto and Irvine and switch to a pass/fail system.

Even if it costs Hoang a straight-A report card, grades this semester will be reflecting how well students can teach themselves. She said it would be far less stressful for students if the district simply switches to a pass or fail system. 

That was also the point from Irvine Unified School District superintendent Terry Walker, who also told Irvine’s trustees that he was against letter grades because an “A” in certain science classes wouldn’t be representative of an “A” in a regular semester science class since students cannot conduct any lab experiments or assignments in front of the teacher in a class setting. 

Walker told board members that a pass/no pass option would divert students’ focus on letter grades and steer them instead toward the main goal of learning.

However, Pak and Ngo worry that students will not take their education seriously if they are given a simple pass or fail option, stating it would be unfair to students who have worked hard to maintain their desired grade point average even though pass/no pass would not have any bearing on one’s GPA.  

“The district has been proactive and transparent over the past month, and they’ve done great so far,” Ngo said. “I trust the board members will make the right decision when the time comes.” 

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