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MBUSD Revises Grading Policy for the Semester

May 07, 2020 02:26PM ● By Jeanne Fratello
The Manhattan Beach Unified School District has revised its grading policy for the current semester, maintaining letter grades at the high school in accordance with a majority of students' and parents' wishes. The middle school will move to a pass/fail system, and elementary school report cards will use teacher comments.

The decision about whether to keep grades or switch to a pass/fail system had been a subject of debate within MBUSD. Most school districts across the state have adopted pass-fail grades for this semester given the difficulties presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, surveys done by MBUSD indicated that students, parents, teachers, and counselors favored a letter-grade system at the high school.

The new policy - approved at Wednesday night's meeting - would maintain grades for Mira Costa High School. At the same time, any Mira Costa student receiving a passing grade (A, B, C, or D) could opt to change that grade to a "P" for pass for this semester. This change would have no impact on the student's overall GPA and would still satisfy graduation requirements. Students would have until August 1 to make this choice.

Additionally, a "hold harmless" clause would prevent any student's grade from dropping to a "Fail" grade during the distance learning period. So in other words, as long as a student was passing a course by March 16, he or she would still pass the course for the spring semester.

Students would only be in danger of failing if the school sends a notice that the student is failing, including the information about the teacher's requirements for minimum participation in distance learning activities and assignments, by May 13.

What was unusual in the policy change was the district's decision to survey parents, teachers, and students.

"It was so important to hear the voices of the students," said board member Karen Komatinsky.  "I appreciate the students and what they penned as their responses. It was thoughtful, it was complete… the level of engagement throughout this was great. I really appreciate their feedback."

Added board member Bill Fournell: "This policy does as good a job as you can trying to balance all of the issues: keeping students engaged, while accepting the fact that some students probably have not been able to deal with this transition as well as others."

How Will Colleges Look at Transcripts?

Student board member John Darcy raised the concern that if a student chose to take the "Pass" option that colleges might look upon that decision unfavorably.

However, Katherine Whittaker Stopp, MBUSD's assistant superintendent for educational services, said that she had received assurances from the University of California and California State University campuses, as well as other colleges, that they would not hold those "pass" grades against students.

MBUSD Superintendent Mike Matthews added that colleges would be receiving so many pass/fail grades from this semester that it was unlikely that they would parse those grades to see if a student chose them or not. "The possibility of them being able to distinguish that would be very low," he said.

No Letter Grades at Middle or Elementary Schools

At Manhattan Beach MIddle School, grades will move to a pass/fail system for this semester. The same "hold harmless" policy will apply: that a student who was not failing before March 16 would not be able to drop down to a failing grade. 

However, teacher comments and grades on assignments will still be available as a way for parents and students to get a more specific idea about student progress in each class.

At the elementary school level, teachers will provide narrative comments that will reflect achievement toward meeting grade level standards for this semester. The comments will reflect achievement through the active school period, and may also reflect positive accomplishments during the distance learning period. Teachers may also use the comments to suggest areas of focus needed to prepare for the next grade level.

The school district plans to come out with further communications about the new grading policy in the coming week.

The MBUSD board agreed on Wednesday night that the schools would not physically re-open before the end of the school year in June.

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