Can fifty fix failing?

Why the new grading policy is a great idea

As distance learning has dragged on into 2021, more and more students have expressed their dissatisfaction with San Jose Unified School District and have voiced their concerns about a lack of consistency across classes and support for students. On January 12, Gunderson High School expressed in a letter that the pandemic and the shift to distance learning has warranted a reexamination of the grading process to pave the way for more students to be successful in every class. They introduced and set a new grading policy for this current semester in which the lowest grade for any assignment will be 50%. This policy will be greatly beneficial for students who have been struggling with the multitude of issues that distance learning has created.

Students’ mental health has raised larger concerns during the extension of distance learning. According to Mission Harbor Behavioral Health, “in a study of about 1,500 teenagers, 7 out of 10 kids reported that they were struggling with their mental health in some way. Over 50% of the teens said they struggled with anxiety, 43% dealt with depression, and 45% had felt more stress than usual.” Taking mental health breaks is important, and this new policy will allow students to take a break when needed and receive a 50% on their assignment.

Additionally, considering the uniqueness of at-home environments, it may be hard to get work done as a result of stress or household distractions. Being distracted by a younger sibling who you can’t get away from or loud conversations in the background can have a negative effect on a student’s learning experience, making it difficult to hear when things are due or focus on learning the material. 82.1% of Gunderson students reported that they’ve encountered similar distractions.

These issues often lead to worse grades or missed assignments. A study from the Bay Area News Group showed that 37% of students have one failing grade and compared to last year when only 27% of high school students had at least one failing grade. Given that so many students are struggling with grades, having the 50% minimum will be more forgiving on students who fall behind. They won’t be faced with a screen full of zeros, which will be less intimidating when they’re trying to raise their grade.

Teachers having random or conflicting assignment dates creates a lot of confusion and disorganization, leading to even more grade difficulties. When teachers have assignments due at different times of the day and on different dates, it gets difficult to keep up with. 78.6% of Gunderson students have encountered confusing assignment deadlines or earlier than expected due dates. Teachers also have different grading policies depending on the different classes. This new grading policy is uniform and it gives people more slack if they miss assignment due dates due to a lack of communication. Now, an honest mistake won’t result in a tanked grade; 50% will keep it more stable.

Despite the positives, some may believe that the 50% policy is too forgiving and unfairly benefits undeserving students that didn’t put in the effort during the semester. However, a 50% is still an F, so students must put in some effort if they want to pass the class and even more if they want a C or above. Further, given these unique circumstances and vast learning challenges at home, students truly need the help that this policy gives them, so any sort of boost is necessary.

Some also argue that students will become less encouraged to do work now that incomplete assignments will not result in a zero, making the policy counterproductive. However, the 50% minimum makes it easier to move up to a passing grade; the jump from 50% to 70% is much more manageable than digging themselves out of a hole to get to that same point from a lower grade. So more likely than not, students will see that there is still hope to get their grades up and will be more motivated to work for them.

Overall, this new policy will be beneficial to students given the struggles around mental health, at-home environments, and complications of assignments in an online situation. Being online means that students aren’t open to the same resources, so applying the 50% policy aids those who are in need of its support. With no work completed a failed grade would still stand but at a fairer percent and students won’t be lost in the sea of zeros but rather motivated by what they can do with a base of 50%. This policy’s benefits outweigh the negatives and will greatly help students as they navigate this semester of online learning.