As many students have experienced first-hand, one failed test or a few forgotten worksheets have the potential to tank your final grade in a class. This can drop your GPA, which could then interfere with your chances of getting into certain colleges.
Some California school districts, including Los Angeles Unified, Oakland Unified, Sacramento City Unified, and San Diego Unified, are trying to avoid this snowball effect—particularly as it pertains to acceptances into the University of California and California State University school systems—by phasing out D and F grades. It’s not just about collegiate futures: It’s also a way to refocus on comprehension, rather than making school a numbers game.
“Our hope is that students begin to see school as a place of learning, where they can take risks and learn from mistakes, instead of a place of compliance,” Nidya Baez, assistant principal at Oakland Unified’s Fremont High, told Bay City News, per KRON4. “Right now, we have a system where we give a million points for a million pieces of paper that students turn in, without much attention to what they’re actually learning.”
Instead of irreversible zeroes for missing assignments and D’s and F’s on exams, for example, those things would just be marked “incomplete,” giving kids the opportunity to work with their teachers to fill in the holes and retake tests where needed. As WOWK explains, this type of system is competency-based, as opposed to time-based. The former values the mastery of content, while the latter puts more emphasis on the mastery of content within a certain time frame.
Not all teachers are excited about these changes—some think not reporting failing grades will give a skewed and unclear portrait of students’ progress. “I will work with any student before or after school or even on the weekend to help them learn. However, I will never lie about their knowledge level,” Debora Rinehart, a math and science teacher at Oakland’s St. Theresa School, told Bay City News.
But considering that grading systems can differ from teacher to teacher, failing grades don’t always reflect knowledge level—a trend that the new approach could help correct. Its effectiveness will take some time to determine, since it doesn’t seem like any school or school district has plans to outright ban D’s or F’s. Instead, it’ll be more of a gradual shift away from them.