California Schools Phase out ‘D’ and ‘F’ Grades for High School Students

By Tammy Hung
Tammy Hung
Tammy Hung
December 12, 2021 Updated: December 12, 2021

As high school students transition out of distance learning imposed by pandemic restrictions, several California districts are dropping the use of “D” and “F” grades in an attempt to reengage students in school and boost entry into the state’s public colleges.

Los Angeles Unified, Oakland Unified, Sacramento City Unified, and San Diego Unified are among the districts phasing out “D” and “F” grades for high school students.

If students fail a test or don’t finish their homework, they will be given another chance to retake the test or receive an extension on submitting assignments.

“Our hope is that students begin to see school as a place of learning, where they can take risks and learn from mistakes, instead of a place of compliance,” stated Nidya Baez, assistant principal at Fremont High in Oakland Unified, according to statements obtained by Bay City News.

“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,” Baez said.

According to Bay City News, if students do not pass the final exam or finish homework by the end of the semester, they would earn an “incomplete.” The news outlet reported that the aim is to encourage the learning of course material without compromising students’ ability to enter the University of California and California State University should students receive a poor grade.

Advocates of such “competency-based learning” suggest that assessment should be based on what students have learned instead of how they perform in tests.

The announcement of grading changes come after some public schools in California gave students the option of changing their letter-based grades to pass/fail grades.

Sam Davis, board director of Oakland Unified School District, told ABC News that the “D” grade should be dropped but students should still be given the appropriate grade if they fail.

“D grades are not valid for college eligibility at UC and Cal State but obviously if students don’t master the material, they shouldn’t be getting credit for the class, then they would be getting an F,” Davis told ABC in a Dec. 9 interview.

According to reports obtained from educators, ABC pointed out that many students sitting at a “D” only work enough to avoid getting an “F” grade.

In an interview with ABC, Alix Gallagher, director of strategic partnerships and policy analysis for California Education, emphasized the importance of “rapid specific feedback” to help students improve.

Gallagher told Bay City News that grades vary “from teacher to teacher,” and that instruction, rather than grading, is “what leads to learning.”

In the same report from Bay City News, math and science teacher Debora Rinehart said that “not reporting Ds and Fs is the equivalent of lying about a student’s progress.”

“I will work with any student before or after school or even on the weekend to help them learn. However, I will never lie about their knowledge level,” Rinehart stated.

Tammy Hung