The Great Texas School Debate — Grades or No Grades?

Alongside the global health pandemic affecting millions, a silent education pandemic is brewing. Distance learning has school districts across Texas and the nation divided in their approach to grading.

My district, Highland Park ISD, requires students to engage in distance learning without earning a grade. Other districts award grades and some have a pass/fail system. Without the opportunity to earn grades, a student’s GPA and academic record are permanently affected. More importantly, it may dampen a student’s will to try in this new online learning environment, as evidence to support this is now being displayed across the country and even locally, too.

On March 31, The Los Angeles Times reported that “over 40,000 high schoolers failed to check-in online and experts fear the crisis will widen disparities.” What does this mean? Students are not motivated, and in the midst of this global turmoil students now more than ever need an incentive to study and learn.

For decades, the uniform high school grading system has measured students equally, putting college admissions and scholarship eligibility on a level playing field. This present lack of uniformity will result in an unbalanced college review process with an inaccurate representation of students’ true academic performance.

Elk Grove Unified School District near Sacramento has a structured distance learning program and “is rewarding students with grades for their work.” If competing districts incorporate grading with effort, then we must follow suit here in Texas.

Here at home, it appears some high school students are beginning to echo behaviors of students in LA. On March 31st, one teacher emailed his students, “only 41 out of 120 of you students have completed or started today’s assignment…Need you in a classroom to get you motivated. While batting 0.333 is great in baseball, it’s not so great in the education world.”

So for this very reason, I believe we need to immediately reinstate academic reward for performance. We need the balanced grading system to uphold unity and fairness, while providing the missing incentive for students to complete this school year remotely.

I have written to the HPISD School Board, The Texas Education Agency, Rep. Morgan Meyer, and Gov. Greg Abbott to immediately create a uniform process for academic grading for the 2020 spring semester during this unprecedented emergency for all high school students statewide. This will return us to the accurate academic playing field.

NOTE: The Highland Park ISD board of trustees April 21 approved by a 6-1 vote an alternative credit/no credit grading model to the original plan introduced that will allow high school students to receive numeric grades toward their GPA for this spring semester.


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Ella Grace Collard

Ella Grace Collard, part of the Highland Park High School Class of 2021, is a member of the National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, Science National Honor Society, and USRowing.

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