Hundreds of concerned parents and students have signed an online petition, created on April 30, urging the Burbank Teachers Association and Burbank Unified School District to offer an option for high school students to receive a letter grade instead of a blanket Credit/No Credit mark for Spring semester 2020.
Originally, when in person instruction was suspended on March 16, students and parents were told that they would receive their letter grade as of the 10 week mark in the semester, with a chance to improve the grade during the rest of the semester. Two weeks ago, on April 16, Superintendent Matt Hill announced that the District, after consulting with the Burbank Teachers Association (BTA), would change to a Credit/No Credit grading for all students in all grades for the Spring semester.
The response from high school students and their parents, primarily those of sophomores and juniors, was immediate and strong. Many have emailed BUSD Administration requesting the option for students to choose a letter grade for the semester.
All neighboring school districts, including Los Angeles Unified (second largest in the nation), Glendale, Pasadena, San Gabriel, South Pasadena and Simi Valley have instituted letter grade policies for the Spring semester, or the option of students choosing between a letter grade or a Pass/Fail mark.
“I would be ok with BUSD’s policy if all high schools did it the same way,” commented a teacher and parent of a BUSD high school student. “But kids in other districts will get their grades counted while Burbank kids won’t. Students in the state could have higher overall GPAs due to these semester grades. That’s not fair for our hardworking Burbank students when it comes time to apply for college.”
“Burbank came out early with this change in grading policy compared to other districts in the area,” this teacher/parent added. “And the result is our hardworking kids are penalized.”
“Teachers were not surveyed about this decision – it was negotiated by BTA leadership and District leadership,” commented another teacher with knowledge of how the change in grading to Credit/No Credit came about. “I am unhappy as a parent, I have a student in high school that will definitely be affected, not all colleges will treat the Credit/No Credit the same.”
Reportedly, many Burbank Unified teachers were “livid” about the change to Credit/No Credit.
“Many of the teachers I talk to had no idea this change in grading policy was being pushed through by BTA,” commented yet another teacher and parent. “I feel that this Credit/No Credit policy is too limited and absolutely does harm students.”
“These children will be at a huge disadvantage compared to students from other districts,” the teacher continued. “But BUSD still has time to fix this. There’s still three weeks left in the school year. Let the students who want a letter grade for the semester receive one.”
Many concerned parents have also noted that their students continue to be engaged daily for multiple hours learning, studying and completing class work as well as prepping for AP tests which begin May 11. The College Board, which administers the AP test, has said that colleges will accept 3s, 4s and 5s on the tests to replace college classes as they typically have in the past.
Parents and teachers have tried contacting the Burbank Teachers Association, with no response. A call and email to Diana Abasta, President of the BTA, for comment on the situation, received no response.
According to parents, BUSD Administration has indicated that the grading policy change came at the direction of the Burbank Teachers Association.
However, Burbank Unified students who are enrolled in the online Independent Learning Academy (ILA) will receive a letter grade for Spring ’20.
Students study in the John Burroughs High School library. (Photo By Lisa Paredes)
When asked for comment, Hill responded, “We have not seen a statement from a university that states students will be at a disadvantage this semester if a district, county, or state decides to offer credit/non-credit. Many districts are offering credit/non-credit because universities and states have given guidance that it will not harm students. For example, UC President, Janet Napolitano sent this out yesterday, “Understandably, many California high school students and their families are anxious about what recent changes to instruction and grading mean for their higher education dreams. We at UC feel strongly that the current crisis should not threaten any student’s ability to pursue and attain a world-class education. Earlier this month, we announced in partnership with the Academic Senate that we are temporarily relaxing admissions requirements pertaining to letter grades and standardized testing. This will ensure that no student sees their hard work wasted or their college plans derailed.”
“Based on university and state guidelines, BUSD and the Burbank Teachers Association (BTA), believe that our decision is the most equitable for students; therefore, we are not reconsidering our grading policy,” Hill added.
However, Hill did not answer specific questions such as:
How does this address equity when other BUSD students who are in ILA will receive letter grades?
How does this address equity for students when those in neighboring districts are receiving this opt-in option for letter grades?
How does this not negatively affect future scholarship and college admissions for BUSD students when they will be applying with students who will show a letter grade for this semester?
While UC, Cal State and Harvard may have released statements indicating a lack of letter grades for this semester will not negatively impact college applications, several other California colleges and private universities, including Occidental, which have been contacted by concerned parents, could not give such a guarantee. In fact, this decision will impact college applications for the next three years at a minimum.
Typically, colleges require semester grades from grades 9 – 11 when students apply. Grades for work done in some subjects, such as foreign language and Algebra 1, when completed in eighth grade are also required.
Additionally, most highly competitive colleges, such as USC and UCLA, receive more than 100,000 applications every year. College reps who have visited Burroughs and Burbank High Schools have stated that for a student to even get their application looked at, their GPA must be in the top 5% of their class at their individual school.
(Photo By Lisa Paredes)
In the eyes of many high school students and parents, students who have spent the past year working hard to bring up grades to get into that top 5% and/or have taken AP and Honors courses to boost their GPA, all that hard work for an A now equals the same effort as other students who may have only done the minimum, when everyone receives a Credit/No Credit mark.
“No one has said why the district cannot let the students who want a grade to opt to get one. It cannot be that hard to do… can it?” commented Michael Bax, the parent of a sophomore and eighth-grader. “There is a demand for the option of receiving a letter grade. Fairness would be letting those who want one have one.”
“My wife has contacted a few colleges my older daughter is interested in. Those colleges cannot guarantee a Credit/No Credit score (no GPA) will not affect her chances of getting in or amount of a merit scholarship they might receive,” he added. “[Some] people… have commented how there are bigger things to worry about, maybe for them. To us, regardless of the situation there is not much more important than my daughters’ education.”
“California states DO NO HARM. I think that BUSD is in direct violation of this policy,” commented Shelley Bates, parent of two boys, a junior and a freshman. “You are harming my children. Please reconsider the Credit/No Credit grading policy. I only ask that you allow the students (maybe even only high schoolers) a choice to opt in for grades or pick Credit/No Credit.”
“I really think that it is a fair compromise and takes [into] account EACH child, not only the lowest common denominator. Please do not punish the hardworking students. Equality is not equity,” Bates continued. “This district cannot guarantee that every college and university will equally treat a CREDIT versus a GPA on their transcripts. I need to look out for the best interests of my children and keep them competitive with surrounding districts.”
Burbank High students in the 2018 graduating class. (Photo By: Edward Tovmassian)
Due to the high cost of college tuition, many students and their families plan to rely on scholarships and grants, from independent sources and from their college. One of the major factors for scholarship awards, whether at an institution of higher learning or other independent sources is the high school GPA.
Many families are concerned their students’ opportunities will be limited if they do not receive a letter grade for Spring ’20, along with the extra point boost an A in an AP or Honors class would provide.
Bates also shared San Gabriel Unified’s statement regarding how their grading policy was reached, which was released on April 28.
“The SGUSD grading guidelines were developed considering the different challenges students and their families may be faced with at this time, as well as equity and access issues they may be experiencing. During the Spring 2020 school closures all Elementary and Middle School students in grades TK-8 we will receive credit for their participation in Distance Learning. In the comment section their Report Card, TK-8th grade will receive the comment ‘Credit for Distance Learning’ for Trimester 3.”
“At the end of the Spring 2020 semester, all High School students, in grades 9-12, will receive credit for all coursework in Distance Learning. Rather than choosing credit, students in grades 9-12, will also have the choice of ‘opting -in’ to receive traditional letter grades. Students who choose the grade option have the opportunity to improve their grades during this time. While the Cal State and the University of California systems will be accepting credit grades, private colleges and out of state schools may have a different grading system. Thus, allowing the option for SGUSD High School students to receive grades may better align to their college and university aspirations. Due to the State’s ‘do no harm’ grading guidelines, no SGUSD High School student will receive a grade lower than their third trimester grade.”
“Choice is the fabric of our country. Choice is always good; never bad,” commented a Burbank parent of a sophomore and a sixth-grader, Maxwell Sinovoi, drawing from a letter he sent to the Burbank Board of Education. “Taking away choices is always bad. Pretending to make generalizations about anyone or any group is always bad. This is what pure freedom means. The right to choose. In choices we hold our own power. As so many other school districts have already decided – please join them and give our students the right to choose between a Credit/No Credit grade or ‘opting in’ for letter grades. Students should have rights too.”
Another parent said her son, who is autistic, was very invested in receiving the As he worked so hard for during the school year and was incredibly upset at the prospect of receiving a blanket Credit for his classes instead of the As.
The Change.org petition created by Burbank parents can be found online here. It will be sent to Burbank Teachers Association President Diana Abasta, BUSD Superintendent Matt Hill, BUSD Assistant Superintendent of Education John Paramo and the Burbank Unified Board of Education.
Nearly 400 people have signed the petition as of noon on May 1.
Concerned parents have also emphasized they have no issue with students and parents who prefer a Credit/No Credit mark for the semester. They are petitioning BTA and BUSD to allow those high school students who want a letter grade for their semester to receive one.
Emails requesting comment from the Burbank Board of Education went unanswered. The next Board of Education meeting is May 7. Information on the BUSD Board of Education can be found online here.
Editor’s Note: The article originally stated Cal Poly Pomona could not give a guarantee when contacted by parents. Cal Poly Pomona is part of the State College System. We apologize for the confusion.