The Los Angeles Unified, Oakland Unified, Sacramento City Unified and San Diego Unified are phasing out D and F grades in a bid to "re-engage" and try to repair the damage done to school-age children over the past 21 months of Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdowns and remote learning.
Nidya Baez, assistant principal at Fremont High in Oakland Unified, said the hope is that students will see school as a place of learning.
"Instead of feeling that the school is a place of compliance, students should see school as a place where they can take risks and learn from mistake," Baez said. "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."
The idea is to encourage students to learn the course materials. If students fail a test or do not complete their homework, they'll be able to retake the test and get more time to turn in assignments. An incomplete grade will be given to students who don’t learn the material, pass the final exam or finish the homework by the end of the semester.
Reform advocates have been pushing for this system for years and the pandemic offered an opportunity for districts to put it into action.
After a year of distance learning, many students are languishing academically. Some think that not giving a D or an F is a way to help students who had been impacted by the pandemic, especially Black, Latino and low-income students.
They say that the move is potentially a step toward an entirely different learning system, in which students are assessed by what they've learned and not how well they perform on tests on a given day or whether they turn in their homework on time.
This is the goal of education reformers who are trying to change the traditional high school system for years. Some educational officials have praised the initiative.
Devin Vodicka, former superintendent at Vista Unified in San Diego Country and chief executive of the Learner-Centered Collaborative, stressed the need for a system that gets beyond the institutional model and provides more meaningful feedback for students.
"The future is going to require less focus on time and more focus on what we can do and contribute, and the quality of our performance. We need to prepare our students for this," said Vodicka.
But many are not sold with the idea.
Debora Rinehart, math and science teacher at St. Theresa, a Catholic school in Oakland, said that Ds and Fs play an important role in the classroom.
"They signal that a student did not learn the material and needs extra help. Dropping Ds and Fs doesn't guarantee that students will learn the material, even with extra help, and may lead to grade inflation," said Rinehart.
Rinehart said she will never lie about the knowledge level of her students and will work with them before or after school or even on the weekend to help them learn. "Not reporting Ds and Fs is the equivalent of lying about a student's progress."
Some took to Twitter to express their displeasure over the new initiative by learning institutions. "This generation needs to learn lessons in life, which are consequences to their actions," one tweeted. "You don't study or pay attention in class, you fail that's simple."
Another one tweeted: "This just shows how bubble-wrapped the new generation is. Failure is a part of life."
CampusInsanity.com has more stories about the changes being forced on America's education system.