Burbank Unified Announces Credit/No Credit Grading For Spring Semester

Image Courtesy Burbank Unified School District

As school districts around the country grapple with how to grade students learning remotely, Burbank Unified officials have decided to switch to a Credit/No Credit mark for the spring semester of 2020, instead of a letter grade.

“Students must engage in Distance Learning to earn Credit for their 20-week final mark,” Superintendent Matt Hill communicated to parents and caregivers in an email sent on April 16. “Engaging means that the student must attempt and complete more than the majority of the assignments as assigned by the teacher in a timely manner. Students who do not engage as stated will receive No Credit for their 20-week grade.”

Image Courtesy Burbank Unified School District

“This decision included input from teachers, principals, instructional leads, District-level administration, consultation with university admissions officials, and Los Angeles County superintendents (over 68% of Los Angeles County school districts are moving to Credit/No Credit). We are thankful for our partnership with our teachers and the Memorandum of Understanding signed earlier today to memorialize the temporary shift in grading practices to complete this year.”

Pointing to announcements by Harvard University, University of California, California State University and the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities that the spring semester 2020 Credit/No Credit grades will not negatively impact a student’s college application, Hill assured parents that moving to a Credit/No Credit system will benefit all students in the district and not penalize students with college aspiration.

However, several local school districts, including the second largest in the country, Los Angeles Unified School District, will retain traditional letter grades, as will Palos Verdes Penninsula School District, or allow students to choose between Credit/No Credit or letter grades by a date late in the semester, such as South Pasadena School District.

LAUSD promises that no student will fail a spring semester class and there will be opportunities for students to raise their grades during the remaining weeks of the semester.

“BUSD has created a one-semester change in practice to post accumulated credits without positively or negatively impacting grade point averages,” Hill also stated in his April 16 email.

“Colleges lean heavily on an official document called the School Profile. School Profiles explain circumstances to colleges, including graduation requirements, grade point average calculations, honors courses, average SAT/ACT scores, and other elements that make schools unique. In this case, the shift to credit/no credit grading in the face of a global pandemic will be described and accepted without penalty. The move is temporary and will be discontinued when students and staff return to school in the fall.”

Many colleges and universities have also announced SAT/ACT scores from Spring 2020 will not negatively affect college applicants for 2021-21. AP tests will be truncated and taken at home. It remains to be seen if colleges will accept class credit for those with high AP test scores from Spring 2020.

Several parents have expressed concern about the negative impact the Credit/No Credit grading may have on highly-motivated, academic-focused high school students, who have worked hard to bring up grades or maintain high grades.

“Everyone is talking about the seniors and everything they’re losing, and yes, prom and a graduation ceremony and all of the trappings of what should have been the culmination of everything they’ve worked for… that’s a big deal. I won’t downplay it. I feel for each and every one of them,” commented parent Debbie Matsumoto. “Unfortunately, what they are doing to our juniors has the potential to be so much worse. Some may not be impacted, it’s true.”

“If you child has a 4.0 or higher, he or she will be fine,” Matsumoto continued. “But when the dust settles, Harvard may gloss over this semester with gentler eyes, but overall GPA? You KNOW that will still count. And for my son, this entire year was GO TIME, and he knew it.”

“Do I wish he’d gotten straight As before this? Yes, I absolutely do. But he hit his stride and he ran with it this year, hard. He got a 4.4 last semester and was on his way to repeating that this semester when COVID derailed everyone’s plans. He NEEDED that 4.4 (or even 4.2, if things weren’t perfect) to boost his OVERALL GPA. Because this semester aside, colleges will care. They will, and we all know it. They aren’t suddenly going to gloss over GPAs.”

“Other districts here are giving grades this semester. So a student who had the opportunity to have this semester ameliorate his or her overall GPA will look like a better candidate, period. That isn’t right. With the credit/no credit decision, they have potentially limited the college plans of certain students,” she also said. “My son is one of those. One form email isn’t going to make me throw up my hands and forget that.”

Matsumoto believes District officials are replying to parents’ concerns with a form letter-type response. She, and several other parents and students who have contacted the District with their concerns, hope BUSD will follow the South Pasadena School District model and allow students to choose Credit/No Credit or a letter grade option by a certain date in the semester.

“Unfortunately the form letters I’ve gotten from the District in response to my emails aren’t leaving me feel confident,” she said. “I do feel like allowing students to choose whether to receive a grade or to go with Credit/No Credit is fair.”

“They expect these kids to keep working, to keep giving it their all. I got a letter from [Burroughs High Principal] Ms. Madrigal… stating as much, giving parents instructions on how we should make sure they continue to work and do their best.”

“What motivation do they have? My son actually said that learning for its own sake is good. He also knows these will be the teachers writing his college recommendations,” Matsumoto added. “But I still find it ironic that they are inhibiting his chances by taking away his chance to improve his GPA while telling him to keep working diligently.”

Many colleges and universities rely on overall GPAs to determine which applications are even considered. High school grades, along with standardized test scores and essays, are also considered when awarding merit-based scholarships, which have become increasingly important for families to offset ever-increasing tuition.

In his April 16 email to parents and caregivers, Hill also included a number of announcements and resources for students and parents:

Elementary Trimester 3: Teachers will continue to assign  respond to student work but will not attach a letter or numerical grade to the assignments. Teachers will leave the Trimester 3 grade fields blank but will instead only use the comment field to describe the work and effort of the student during Distance Learning. Comments will return to being optional at the end of 2019-20.

Attendance: As mentioned above, grades will be determined by students successfully attempting and completing more than the majority of work assigned. Attendance is monitored by teachers and staff and they will continue to reach out if your child is not engaging in distance learning.

End of Year Activities: This week Governor Newsom said, “The prospect of mass gatherings is negligible at best until we get to herd immunity and we get to a vaccine. So large-scale events that bring in hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of strangers … is not in the cards” for “June, July, August.” While we still want to have in-person end of year events, we will need to wait and see when we are allowed to have those events and what the restrictions will be for our students and families. In the meantime, school sites are working on creating virtual end of year events to celebrate the accomplishments of our students. Principals will communicate the details in the upcoming weeks. This is definitely not the senior year anyone had envisioned for our students. The following article is an excellent read for students, families and staff: https://thriveglobal.com/stories/the-year-without- graduation/

Family Technology Support: Families who need technology support may click on the following link: http://burbankusd.org/Student-Parent-Tech-Support-Request

Mental Health Resources: As a reminder, Burbank Family Service Agency (FSA) is open and accepting referrals for tele-health (therapy) sessions at 818-845-7671 or https://familyserviceagencyofburbank.org/. We also have a list of resources on our website https://www.burbankusd.org/Page/2688.