These large school districts will stop giving ‘D’ and ‘F’ grades

Bad report cards could soon be a thing of the past in California as some of the state’s largest school districts are dropping “D” and “F” grades.

Los Angeles, Santa Ana, Oakland Unified, Sacramento City Unified and other California districts have decided to limit the use of “Ds” and phased out “Fs” in grading. High schoolers who fail a test or homework assignment can get a do-over or more time to complete the work.

Students who don’t ever finish the assignments or who fail the final exam would earn an “incomplete,” according to EdSource.

The move is called competency-based learning. Advocates argue that assessment should be based on mastery of learning — what students have learned instead of how they test. Supporters also hope it will help kids re-engage after nearly two years of virtual learning during the pandemic.

“What mastery learning does is really allow students every opportunity to show that they know the material and if they don’t know the material, to get the support they need to be able to demonstrate it,” said Steven Kellner with California Education Partners.

Critics are blasting the plan, saying all it does is lie about students’ progress. Some call the grading system idiosyncratic.

“One teacher takes homework assignments late, the other has extra credit, one curves scores on tests, so there is a clear and objective unfairness to students if they get one teacher versus another,” said Alix Gallagher, with Policy Analysis for California Education.

Critics argue that bad grades serve a purpose, letting students know that they haven’t learned adequately. There’s also concern over more grade inflation.

Others say grading is already an imperfect and subjective system, and failing grades can discourage kids rather than help them learn.

“We’re talking about people who are very young, and labeling them at such an early age as ‘less than’ or ‘more than’ can have significant psychological repercussions,” Patricia Russell said in an interview with EdSource. Her nonprofit helps school districts finds alternatives to traditional grades. “Some things in life are zero-sum games, but learning should not be.”