School District Considers Shift Away From Letter Grades

The San Mateo Union High School District Board of Trustees has received considerable feedback as staff proposes shifting away from letter grades for this semester because of extended closures due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Teachers groups, principals and other district leaders have reached the collective recommendation that credit-no credit is the least bad of all the grading options,” says district superintendent Kevin Skelly in a message to families and students. “I’m devastated for families, in particular our students that their high school experience will be marred like this.”

In a letter to trustees, Skelly points out that there has been a significant disruption to learning with the shelter in place directive. The rapid shift to a virtual environment did not allow for teachers to create a comparable educational experience for students, who also have varying levels of access.

“If we go to credit-no credit it does not mean that students will get a free pass in schooling for the rest of the year,” said Skelly.

But opponents are not so sure, arguing letter grades increase investment in school work. They also argue students should get the promised extra weight in their GPA for taking advanced placement classes. And the decision should impact students applying for college, although notably the University of California has suspended letter grade requirements for admissions for courses completed in winter-spring and summer of this year.

The board will take up the issue of receiving credit or no credit grades at a meeting next week.