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California students would have an opportunity to mitigate the academic harm from the pandemic under legislation headed to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has until the first week in July to decide whether to sign it.

Assembly Bill 104, authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales, D-San Diego, would create several options to counteract the negative impact on grades and graduation credits.

They include changing low grades to a pass or no pass option, taking an extra year of high school and waiving local district graduation requirements that exceed the state credit and course minimums for students who were juniors or seniors in the 2020-21 school year. Families of a student with failing grades could also formally request their school to allow their child to repeat the grade. The Legislature approved the bill Monday.

“Kids who struggled with distance learning during the pandemic shouldn’t be penalized for falling behind during such a difficult year,” Gonzalez said in a statement.

During the 15 months that most schools were in distance learning, analyses showed that many students, particularly English learners and low-income Latino and Black children, lost ground in math and English language arts. San Diego and Los Angeles were among the districts that saw a substantial rise in D’s and F’s among high school students who were disconnected from school.

Through federal Covid aid and one-time state funding, California districts will have upward of $40 billion to spend over the next several years on students who fell behind academically. Gonzales’ bill would mandate interventions and support for students who are not on track to graduate or who have D’s, F’s and no-passes for more than half of their grades.

Gonzales, who chairs the influential Assembly Appropriations Committee, is pressing the Newsom administration to earmark funding for interventions in the next state budget, but it wasn’t included in the governor’s May revision. Regardless, the bill would create a spending mandate for districts, and so the state would be on the hook to cover the expenses.

Because many of the bill’s provisions would apply to this year’s grades and decisions for this summer and fall, the Legislature approved AB 104 as an urgency bill, with the more than two-thirds majority needed. It would take effect immediately.

Here are the key requirements of the bill:

Student retention: The bill entitles parents of children with mostly failing grades in district or charter schools to request a discussion on repeating the previous school year. The consultation, with the family, a teacher and a school administrator, must occur within 30 days of a written request. The school must explain all options, along with presenting the research on holding students back.

A summary of that research, cited in an analysis of the bill, “found little benefit and significant risks of retention: Several large‐scale statistical analyses have established retention as a strong predictor of student dropout.” A Rand Corp. survey of U.S. principals in March 2020 found that 84% said they would not require students to repeat a grade level if they failed or missed significant class time due to Covid-19 disruptions.

With the Newsom administration also opposing a policy encouraging retention, the bill in its final version fundamentally retains the current state law, which gives a school district the final say over retention decisions. Parents must be notified within 10 days, under the bill, based on “whether retention is in the pupil’s best interests, academically and socially.”

Regardless of whether they move ahead or repeat, students would qualify for academic assistance. That would include the ability to take again the following year those courses they failed or some other form of credit recovery.

Grading options: All high school students would be able to change their letter grades for courses taken in 2020-21 to a “pass” or “no pass” on their transcript without lowering their GPA. It also would not affect college admissions or state financial aid for higher education. California State University has already agreed to accept the pass/no pass designations; the bill requests the University of California, whose board of regents has sole authority over the decision, to agree as well. Many school districts adopted pass/no pass in spring 2020, when the state said the option was permissible under state law, and have continued it this year.

Graduation requirements: Consistent with admissions requirements to CSU and UC, many districts require more credits, including an extra year of math and a foreign language, beyond the two-year state requirements for a diploma. The bill would waive all credit requirements above the state’s minimum for students who were high school juniors or seniors in 2020-21.

Fifth year: Students who were high school juniors or seniors during the pandemic would be entitled to complete high school graduation requirements, including enrolling in a fifth year of instruction.

“We wanted to provide some additional tools to parents and students who have been affected by this Covid disaster. Although we’re returning to school (in the fall), we want to make sure that we return to school in a way that is holding these kids harmless,” lawmaker Gonzalez said.

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  1. Jessica 5 days ago5 days ago

    I was part of this during the pandemic. It messed me up, I didn’t get any education. I couldn’t learn, I couldn’t keep up, I couldn’t graduate with my class. No one checked up on me. I was so disconnected. All I want to do is another year of high school now that schools are open and I can physically learn. I finished online but technically I didn’t do any work for the rest of … Read More

    I was part of this during the pandemic. It messed me up, I didn’t get any education. I couldn’t learn, I couldn’t keep up, I couldn’t graduate with my class. No one checked up on me. I was so disconnected. All I want to do is another year of high school now that schools are open and I can physically learn. I finished online but technically I didn’t do any work for the rest of my main classes and it sucks because I didn’t learn a thing and I had so much trouble.

    I left in the beginning of the school year before Covid and came back because I couldn’t do independent school. So I came back with zero credits and by the time I came back to my regular school, weeks later Covid happens and school got pushed back. And I didn’t receive my school work until April. They gave me my classes through google classroom but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t keep up. I had no credits, I didn’t even go to school for a semester. And I came back to this horrible situation.

    I had to do summer school but I couldn’t finish in time, so I had to finish after the fact and so I did. But I am so disconnected that all I wanted was another year of school to get the full education. How do I do it?

  2. Gina Baleria 2 months ago2 months ago

    Quick question – under this provision, would a D be designated as PASS or NO PASS?

  3. Michael Romano 2 months ago2 months ago

    The law sounds too good to be true! When I sent an email to the Government Affairs Division of the California Department of Education asking what was being done to implement the new law so that parents could apply to have their children's letter grades changed to pass/ no pass grades, I did not receive a reply. When I called my local high school district - the Acalanes Union High School District - to ask … Read More

    The law sounds too good to be true!

    When I sent an email to the Government Affairs Division of the California Department of Education asking what was being done to implement the new law so that parents could apply to have their children’s letter grades changed to pass/ no pass grades, I did not receive a reply. When I called my local high school district – the Acalanes Union High School District – to ask how I could apply to change my son’s letter grade to a “pass” grade, they took my contact information, but after three days still did not called me back. The same with my Assemblyperson – her office told me they would check into it and get back to me.

    It appears that this is a very popular law supposedly getting unanimous backing by the Legislature and the governor. But who is responsible in the Ed Department for getting the ball rolling so that the students can benefit from it?

  4. SD Parent 3 months ago3 months ago

    I appreciate the recognition inherent in AB 104 that many students have not thrived during the pandemic, specifically due to "distance learning" (during which limited learning actually took place). I support the idea of repeating courses for a better grade and even repeating an entire year to give students the foundation they need to do well in the future. In contrast, I cannot support just sweeping the lost learning under the rug by allowing students … Read More

    I appreciate the recognition inherent in AB 104 that many students have not thrived during the pandemic, specifically due to “distance learning” (during which limited learning actually took place). I support the idea of repeating courses for a better grade and even repeating an entire year to give students the foundation they need to do well in the future.

    In contrast, I cannot support just sweeping the lost learning under the rug by allowing students to opt for pass/not pass and/or reducing the amount of credits to graduation. To do these is to essentially socially promote students with no regard as to whether they have actually learned the material and sets them up for struggles or even failure down the road.

    For starters, every college admissions officer is going to assume that a “pass” is a C, anyway, so it’s false assumption that masking a C with a “pass” won’t impact college admission. And does anyone believe that a student who got a “pass” (C) in Algebra would suddenly become an A student in higher math classes or that a student who got a “pass” in pre-Calculus isn’t going to struggle in a college Calculus class? Wouldn’t it be better to allow the student to repeat the course for a better grade so that they have a solid foundation to move forward successfully?

    Similarly, allowing students fewer credits for graduation hurts them by resulting in a loss of foundation that will impact them when they reach college. Without a solid foundation, students will have limited college options (why admit the student with fewer credits when there is one equally qualified who has done more?), they will struggle in the more demanding college courses that assume a foundation in the material, and/or they will require additional time in college (and the resulting costs) to remediate the learning loss (e.g. an extra year of math or a foreign language).

    Let’s be honest about the learning loss and actually do something to combat it instead of glossing over it by allowing fewer credits to graduation and pass/not pass grading. Use resources to provide an extra year of remediation, tutoring, and other support to bring students to grade level and build a foundation so that they can succeed into the future. As such, I hope that Governor Newsom uses line-item veto to approve the best parts of AB 104.

    Replies

    • AK 3 months ago3 months ago

      I would not assume that kids who got a C in calculus or other classes will struggle in college courses. My son is a student, took AP US history, Honors English and AP Calc BC in his junior year during Covid. He attended every online class and I hired a tutor to teach him what wouldn't be covered in his AP calc class. He still got a C (first in his life) in all three … Read More

      I would not assume that kids who got a C in calculus or other classes will struggle in college courses. My son is a student, took AP US history, Honors English and AP Calc BC in his junior year during Covid. He attended every online class and I hired a tutor to teach him what wouldn’t be covered in his AP calc class. He still got a C (first in his life) in all three of those classes. He got a C because he turned all of his work in late, because being locked in his room on a computer for over a year sucked and because he is in a huge urban school district that provided about 6 hours of live instruction a week, and because he didn’t like being autonomous and without that relationship and collaboration with other students he struggled to find the motivation to turn work in.

      In addition to that, our district cancelled all SAT tests and we would have had to travel several hours away for him to take the test. Our school never returned to live instruction for high school while other nearby districts and private schools did. He is also a brilliant musician (a jazz piano player who has won two national awards with his small jazz combo) who lost the ability to perform and play with his peers, similar to athletes.

      So now here were are, looking at colleges that he is more than capable of attending and thriving in, as he has done his entire life up until distance learning in a huge urban school district, and not only are his choices limited, they will now cost us more than we can afford because all of the sudden he will not be able to get any merit aid.

      So what does a kid like him deserve? Should he repeat classes (AP and honors classes) or a year of school to bring up a grade? Or should someone cut him some slack and allow him to be on the same playing field of kids in private schools and rich districts who returned to in person learning? He’s not the only stellar student to suffer during this pandemic, and it is not an indication of how he will perform in college.

      I support this direction, and hope the colleges will not look at the pass/no pass as a strike against the student, but that they will have compassion. And in my son’s case, that pass does equal a C, so at least it wouldn’t affect his GPA and he can throw his hat in the ring and have a chance.

    • Brian Foster 3 months ago3 months ago

      All of what you wrote applies to college-bound students. COVID-19 served to put a spotlight on the large number of students who have no intention of going to college (while allowing society to pretend that those students are fully prepared to do so).

      Incidentally, many high schools now consider grades of D and higher to be “passing.”

  5. tom sharp 3 months ago3 months ago

    My wife spent over 30 years teaching math in inner city schools in Chicago. Among the several things that drove her up the wall, by far the worst was kids coming into a Junior and Senior level high school class who didn't even know the multiplication tables (i.e, third-grade level math), let alone any of the most simplest algebra and geometry concepts. Those students, and I'm not talking about one or two of them, had … Read More

    My wife spent over 30 years teaching math in inner city schools in Chicago. Among the several things that drove her up the wall, by far the worst was kids coming into a Junior and Senior level high school class who didn’t even know the multiplication tables (i.e, third-grade level math), let alone any of the most simplest algebra and geometry concepts. Those students, and I’m not talking about one or two of them, had been “socially promoted” for years on end. That is, they got passing grades math (and, no doubt other subjects) solely for the reason of staying with their so-called “peer age group.”

    That approach, and has been proven many times (mathematically by the way), to help neither the students nor the teachers. How do teach advanced algebra or trigonometry to kids with no math skills whatsoever? What are the kids in the class who could handle Junior or Senior-level math but don’t get the chance because the teacher is busy doing remedial work with half the class. Teaching down to the lowest common denominator fails both logic and math 101. Time for the bleeding hearts in California to deal with reality and give the kids who make the effort to learn and chance to continue doing it.