Photo by Sam Balye

Starting this school year, the San Diego Unified School District is implementing a new policy that will overturn former grading practices in an effort to “fight racism.”

Vice President of San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD), Richard Barrera told San Diego News Desk that it’s “part of our honest reckoning as a school district.” 

“If we’re actually going to be an anti-racist school district, we have to confront practices like this that have gone on for years and years,” said Barrera.

The SDUSD datasheet says that Hispanics, Blacks, Pacific Islanders, and Native-American students are more likely to significantly receive grades below the average of a D or F. According to the datasheet, Hispanic students received D or F grades about 23 percent of the time last year, while Black students averaged at nearly 20 percent, while White and Asian students received them less than 7 percent during the semester.

Educators and students have said that the inclusion of non-academic factors into one’s grade and not giving students more opportunities to learn from their mistakes and make progress can contribute to unfair disparities in their grades.

A report from the SDUSD states that the grading report will go as followed:

“Academic marks shall be based on the competency level of each student and subject-area as it relates to content standards. Students shall achieve the level of meeting content-area standards by the end of the grading term when a final grade mark is recorded (at the elementary level final grade marks are issued at the end of the year, at the secondary level final grade marks are issued at the end of each course). Per California State Education Code, attendance shall not be factored into the academic grade.”

Zachary Patterson, a University City high school junior and a student board member of SDUSD told Scriberr News about the introduction of Mastery Based learning and its purpose.

“The idea of Mastery Based learning and focusing on the student understanding and being able to apply the content, rather than focusing on the other extraneous factors and often influenced grade,” Patterson said

 “I would like to emphasize though to begin with, that this policy does benefit all students,” he said. 

Patterson explained he’s received critical emails from people who may be offended by the policy. 

“I’ll see emails somebody says ‘I’m a Hispanic person and I’m offended that you think I’m a lower achievement, or I’m an African American and I’m offended that you think that I need a different grading policy to be successful.’ and I want to emphasize that, that’s not the idea of it at all,” he said.

He said everybody is in a different place in their lives and have things that may be out of their control that could impact their performance in school. 

The SDUSD report says that if an educator deems to evidently see the progress of a student in danger of failing a course not meeting standards, the teacher shall arrange a conference with the student’s parent/guardian or send the parent/guardian a written report with various strategies on how the student can demonstrate improvement prior to the end of the current grading period. 

“We’re going to make sure that when we assign grades we’re assigning them based on a student being able to be successful and understanding and mastering the knowledge of the course, and how that ties into racism is recognizing that oftentimes different socioeconomic statuses do have different impediments that are stopping them from being able to be successful,” Patterson said. 

Some factors preventing students from being successful could be a teacher discriminating against the student for having to work “three different jobs while also attending school, and just can’t get the assignment done that one night.”

 “Then, we don’t have to worry about discriminating against students that aren’t in a situation where they meet those conventional standards that are usually expected,” Patterson said. 

SDUSD has been working on various areas of its educational procedures, including grading, in an effort to make it unprejudiced, solely in response to protests that happened over the course of this past summer in response to the police killing of George Floyd. 

When: October 2020

Where: ​San Diego Unified School District, San Diego, CA

Who are the major players: ​The San Diego Unified School District has rolled out “mastery based learning”, which does not penalize a student’s work, attendance, and/or behavior in their report card when it comes time to the grading evaluation process. This policy is manifested in helping students of all ethnic backgrounds and gives them the opportunity to master the subject being taught in class until teachers can see their progress of achievement.

Written ByEddie Huijon

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