Taupier announces new grading system for distance learning


(Ethan Swope)

By Logan Little, Editor in Chief

Updated May 25, 2020.

The Tamalpais Union High School District introduced a “Universal Pass” grading system on April 20 for the remainder of the second semester. All students who are considered in “good standing” in their academic courses will receive an A (100 percent) in their R5 and R6 courses. These will be averaged with their R4 grades to determine their final semester grades, according to an email from the district on April 20.
The new system was created to adjust academic standards to the distance learning environment.
“Our primary goal with distance learning was to maintain some level of learning while caring for the whole child. We do not feel we can accurately assess student learning in the distance format, yet we wish to keep those who are able, engaged in learning for the remainder of the semester,” district superintendent Tara Taupier wrote in the email.
“A student is considered in ‘good standing’ by participating in distance learning, to the best of their abilities given their individual circumstances, through the end of the semester,” Taupier wrote. “Any student who is deemed not in good standing may be issued an Incomplete for the semester.”
Several teachers expressed support for the new grading policy.
“Distance learning creates a huge equity issue that must be taken into account every second while this is happening. I’ve also noticed that my students with anxiety and executive functioning deficits are feeling those things tenfold,“ special education teacher Cristine Costello said. “There was no clean-cut decision to be made, but the Universal A policy takes into account students that need more support and consideration at this time.”
English teacher Austin Bah, who described the new policy as “fine to me,” believes students may gain more from a low-pressure environment.
“In some ways, we are freer to learn if we don’t have to worry about grades too much. The new system seems pretty generous, but why not be?” Bah said. “I worry most for the inequity we cause elsewhere where students are being held to really high standards, and are expected to sit for hours, to stay visually logged in and on-screen so their teachers can see them for the whole time.”
Students have a variety of opinions about the new system.
“I think it’s one of the best decisions that the administration has made toward the whole pandemic,” sophomore Adrien Gontheir said. “It truly helps students out a lot and gives them the opportunity to go from not passing a class to exceeding drastically.”
Junior Cassandra Peterson said, “It’s equitable for those unable to give 100 percent effort at this time, but it also allows students, specifically juniors, to maintain a solid grade point average.”
Some are worried the policy will hurt them academically.
“It feels a little more unfair just because it’s almost as if it didn’t matter that we had been working really hard because people putting no effort in got the same grade,” sophomore Nina Lawson said.
Additionally, several juniors raised concerns about the Universal Pass policy for the college admissions process in 2021.
“It will cause students who would otherwise academically stand out to colleges not be able to,” junior Zachary Wienfield said.
“Obviously an A won’t look as good with this system, but it is also the school policy for the semester,” junior Abigail Albert said. “If a college admissions officer is going to discredit a semester of work due to a school policy caused by a pandemic, then that might be a sign of a school I wouldn’t be too happy at anyway.”
On April 1, the University of California suspended the requirement for SAT or ACT scores from freshman applicants until fall 2024 and the requirement for letter grades in “a” through “g” courses completed in the winter, spring, and summer of 2020.
The UC system maintains the admission process will be just as competitive as prior years.
“This does not lower the bar for admission, but accommodates the real barriers students have faced as tests have been canceled and classes have moved to Pass/No Pass grading,” the UC system said in a press release.
Several colleges including all Oregon public universities and schools such as Boston, Pepperdine, and Washington University have announced they will not require the SAT or ACT for fall 2021 admissions.
District leaders argue that ensuring student equity during distance learning takes priority over potential academic consequences.
“There is no perfect answer to the conundrum we are facing. I know some of you would not choose this option, but for many, the circumstances in which they find themselves at this moment in time is not a choice,” Taupier wrote in an email to the district.