The school board is considering implementing changes to grading practices that would make homework, effort and attendance not directly impact student grades.

The topic was brought up at the Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education Jan. 14 meeting, where board members discussed whether to adopt the California School Board Association’s model language for grading standards.

“If I read the language of this it seems sort of utterly unobjectionable,” Board Member Ken Dauber said. “‘A teacher shall base a student’s grade solely on the quality of the student’s academic work and his or her mastery of course content based on district standards.’”

With this proposed change, grades would be based on a variety of assessments including tests, projects and class discussions, while areas such as homework would no longer be factors.

“I’ve come to understand that in our middle and high schools, there are times that students are not mastering the content of the course, but receiving a passing grade because they completed homework,” Board Member Jennifer DiBrienza stated in an email. “I’d hate to think that we are passing students through classes while failing to actually teach the content of the class.”

“As someone who doesn’t always do wonderfully on tests, it is really helpful to be able to have some percentage of my grade be based on the work I put into the class.”

— Hope Morita, junior

At the Jan. 14 meeting, Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education Services Sharon Ofek introduced the suggested revision.

“It is reflective of the past decade’s shift in education overall and is indicative of the evolution of grading practices in our own district —  a district that already has teachers exploring with standards based grading and learning,” Ofek said at the meeting.

While this is intended to lower student stress, Palo Alto High School junior Hope Morita said that this is not an effective way to address the issue.

“As someone who doesn’t always do wonderfully on tests, it is really helpful to be able to have some percentage of my grade be based on the work I put into the class,” Morita said.

DiBrienza explained that the modification will still allow for a variety of factors that impact a student’s grades — the only difference being that homework would not be one such factor.

“The proposed policy change in no way limits grading to high stakes tests,” DiBrienza stated. “Rather it states that grades consist of evaluation of tests, projects, portfolios, class discussions, etc. Homework might be work on a project or preparation for a class discussion and that certainly would count.”

Ofek said in the meeting that such a shift would take time and further discussion.

“Adoption of this policy would not result in an overnight change in practice rather a paced implementation over time,” she said.

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