BUSD Stands by Grading Policy Despite Backlash

The BUSD Board of Education, which includes (from left) Roberta Reynolds, Steve Frintner, Armond Aghakhanian, Charlene Tabet and Steve Ferguson, backed Superintendent Matt Hill and the Burbank Teacher’s Association’s decision to change this semester’s grading policy to Credit/No Credit after listening to disgruntled parents’ letters.

The Burbank Unified School District stood firm in its decision to go with a “Credit/No Credit” grading policy for the spring semester despite backlash and pleas from parents during the Board of Education meeting on Thursday.
Superintendent Matt Hill and the five board members responded to numerous letters from concerned — and angered — parents regarding the Burbank Teacher’s Association and district’s controversial decision. All local schools closed March 16 because the COVID-19 pandemic and students were given Chromebooks for distance learning.
“I completely understand the passion and advocacy for your children,” Hill addressed parents during the meeting. “The approach we took with our teachers was looking at all of the options and thinking of different scenarios for each option.
“The state published guidelines that school districts can follow, so we looked at those guidelines and ran scenarios and debated hours upon hours with our district staff as well as our teachers. … A survey by CalMatters surveyed 102 districts right now and the majority moved to ‘Credit/No Credit.’”
Family members of students asked the board to reevaluate the grading policy announced on April 16, saying they feel it does more harm than good. Multiple commenters supported different policies adopted by neighboring districts, including the Los Angeles Unified School District and Glendale, both of which opted to offer a letter grade.
L.A. Unified, the second largest school district in the nation, implemented a no-fail policy that only allows students’ grades to improve, not worsen.
“Let’s try and play by the same rules [as other districts] and give our children the same opportunities,” said Maxwell Sinovoi, who has two daughters in BUSD schools. “It’s not an equal playing field. Many students can improve their grade with the LAUSD policy, which is a wonderful one. If you want to work hard, then do the extra work and improve that grade. What’s the harm in helping a child improve?”
BTA President Diane Abasta responded to parents in a statement during the meeting, saying that “with students expected to complete half of their normal work, and with the mastery of concepts impossible to delineate, teachers could not accurately and authentically grade assignments.”
“Additionally, the district had to grapple with the inequities in technology and access to resources, and families in economic or medical crisis,” Abasta told the Burbank Leader in an email. “Such considerations dictated the decisions of BTA and the district, including the [memorandum of understanding] on grades. We followed what was best for all of our 15,000 students without creating more tiers of inequity.”
Abasta added that the problem was discussed with “other trusted teachers in the membership and arrived at a consensus.”
BOE Vice President Steve Frintner echoed Abasta by saying a letter grade this semester could possibly devalue the work put in by a previous or future student in the same course.
“I feel for students working hard for their grades, but the fact of the matter is, as [board member Steve Ferguson] touched on, no matter how hard you’re working on this second 10-week period of this semester, this class will not be the same as the class was for the student taking it last year and student taking it next year. And to assign the same type of grades for that class can devalue what those grades mean. We have to try and stay consistent.”
Another popular grading policy among parents participating in the meeting was the one made by South Pasadena High School, which gave its students the option of a letter grade or “Credit/No Credit.”
About one week ago, a group of parents created an online petition on change.org in support of the policy adopted by SPUSD, which had garnered 944 signatures as of the Leader’s press deadline on Friday.
“As a parent to two high school boys, they are only given six semesters for their GPA before college applications are due,” Shelley Bates wrote in an email. “We chose this district thinking it was a great district. We now have this one semester taken away and possibly also in the fall. I only want my boys as competitive as all the other surrounding districts. BUSD’s argument is equity. ‘Credit/No Credit’ grading is not equity. It’s equality. We have planned for higher education for my children the day they were born. Please do not let this district punish the hard workers and achievers. I believe the choice is the ultimate equity solution.”
GPA is a factor when it comes to college admissions. However, Hill assured parents that universities have stated that these unprecedented times will be taken into consideration when students apply.
“Grades this semester, whether you give an ‘A’ or you don’t, you can’t really see that as a concrete assessment of how students are doing,” Hill said. “You have to look at the full picture.”
Hill believes the same consideration will be used when applying for merit scholarships, suggesting that those organizations may have to cut points from the minimum GPA.
“They’re still figuring out how they’re going to do that, but there’s a commitment, and to use that from the websites and their statements,” he said. “These are strange and unusual times, and they’re going to have to be more nuanced as they look through this.”
Board president Armond Aghakhanian, who works in higher education, is also confident that universities and colleges will make adjustments to admission requirements because of the pandemic.
Not all board members expressed confidence in the decision. Roberta Reynolds said she wondered if a 10-week grade benefited students more.
“I guess my answer is that I’m really struggling with it, and I’m really struggling with whether or not there would be relative harm for a 10-week grade to stand,” she said. “At this moment, I think I will leave it at that.”
Parent Debora Matsumoto expressed dismay by the board’s response, and said she feels that they are not taking more facts into consideration.
“I was extremely frustrated,” she voiced in a phone interview. “I felt — regardless of the amount of discussion — that we weren’t really listened to. I know Matt Hill has faulty information. Every surrounding district is going with grades. Nationwide, college-bound students are fighting [Burbank students] for those spots and merit scholarships. … Kids who deserve ‘As’ won’t shine with administrators, and it’s taking away that hard work from students knowing their real last opportunity to apply for colleges. They are stealing their grades and effort.”
Along with Hill and board members, Abasta also said she sides with universities stating that these “trying times” will be considered when evaluating students.
“We believe the statements that universities have been releasing are accurate and they will stay committed to those statements,” she said. “They all understand we are in the middle of a pandemic; therefore, it is understandable and acceptable for states and districts to offer Credit/Non-Credit to students instead of grades. They also have said students will not be penalized if states and districts make this choice.”

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