Grade distribution analysis from the first progress report

Staff reflect on grade centric goals and milestones after the the first month of school

Melody Cui and Krish Dev

The first grading period of the school year ended on Sept. 21, with a total of 263 D and 239 F grades. There were more failing grades this year compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019, but data obtained from the admin show a trend of steady recovery from the upward tick in 2020. 

The administration assesses the distribution of grades after each progress report to evaluate whether or not it met its Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) goals, a self-implemented expectation of grade distributions. This year, the goal is to increase the total number of passing grades, which are As, Bs and Cs, from 95.3% to 98%. 

Before COVID-19, there was a steady rise in the number of passing grades from year to year. However, when the pandemic shifted students and staff to remote learning, the trend was slightly disrupted. Vice Principal Nico Flores attributes this change to the transition to remote learning and the impact of the pandemic.

“I think [the increased number of D’s and F’s] had a lot to do with remote learning, trying to figure out Zoom, trying to turn in Schoology assignments, [and] getting lost in the ether,” Flores said. “I [also] think [students] were dealing with a lot of different things [aside from school]. We have a lot of people that have families in other countries that are struggling.”

Flores believes that the reason the number of passing grades has not yet recovered to pre-pandemic levels this year is due to the back and forth transition between remote and in-person learning.

“We were getting into a rhythm [before the pandemic,]” Flores said. “We had to put that to the side, and create something brand new that met the needs of remote learning, and now going back [in person], we are trying to integrate what we did in remote learning [and] what we used to do [before remote learning.] And with anything that we do that’s new, it takes some time. So the first six weeks there were a lot of people that were doing different things, to provide as much support as possible.”

In contrast, Math Department Lead Kathleen McCarty reasons that this trend stems from unsuitable course selection. She believes some students strive to take certain classes just because it’s the most “challenging course,” and sees it the most when freshman take Pre-Calculus Honors, a decision she’s “really not sure why there’s such a rush [for.]” McCarty also thinks COVID-19 exacerbated this mindset due to the environmental contrast distance learning provided. 

“It seems like with distance learning, more students decided that ‘oh, I can make that huge jump’ and then come back into a classroom setting,” McCarty said. “It’s a lot harder to do this work on a test in a classroom setting versus at home, online.”

Aside from being the math department lead, McCarty is also the AP Statistic Professional Learning Community lead. The PLC for each department decides grade weighting, class pacing and homework load to ensure all teachers in the same course teach and grade using similar standards.

Freshman Biology PLC Lead Lora Lerner believes that working together as a department not only helps set consistent standards such as category weighting, but it also allows teachers in the same department to identify what students are struggling with and how they can solve these issues. Lerner says her department gathers data and drills down to the “little things to figure out why these patterns exist.” 

“We compare across teachers, and sometimes find that maybe one teacher’s students are doing way better than another,” Lerner said. “Then we might stop and say, ‘Whoa, what are you doing that’s helping your kids to be more prepared for this?’”

After coming back to in-person learning, PLCs have been working together to implement different teaching practices in order to ease the transition and reduce the amount of failing grades. Principal Ben Clausnitzer believes that one of the most effective methods is revision and redemption, where students can earn points back on assignments by revising and “learning more.” 

Another strategy admin is planning to employ is targeted tutorial, a variation of tutorial that directly focuses on students that are struggling in certain classes. Clausnitzer describes it as a systematic approach where teachers identify what students are struggling with and help address them through personalized meetings. Along with the steps that admin and staff are taking to ensure that students have opportunities to catch up on learning, Clausnizter believes students and parents need to take initiative as well. 

“Sometimes there’s a reluctance for students or parents to really engage in conversation with teachers, and I would really recommend jumping into that dialogue [with teachers] if something’s not working right, whether it be academically, socially [or] emotionally,” Clausnitzer said. “The teacher is where the rubber meets the road, meaning that [the] classroom is the closest connection we have between the student and the educator, and having the conversation where that rubber meets the road is super beneficial. [It’s] where everybody starts learning more about each other and [we] can try to figure out,‘What are the exact issues?’ and ‘What can we do to [help]?’” 

Lerner thinks that methods like conversation or targeted tutorial can help MVHS achieve its WASC goal of assigning fewer D and F grades, a goal she is “reminded of regularly.” However, she suggests admin change directions and employ a goal that is less “vague” and focuses on qualitative analysis that provides solutions the staff can act on. 

“We need to sort of think about making a goal that aligns with getting where we want to go,” Lerner said. “Just saying the numbers is not helpful, because it doesn’t help us to get there in a way that everybody feels good about. We don’t want to feel pressure and inflate everybody’s grades. If students [are] getting a D or an F, they’re not learning, they’re unhappy [and] something’s not right.”

Even though the WASC goals have not been met yet, Flores congratulates MVHS students for “the work [they] put in,” and the parents and staff for supporting them. To Clausnitzer, the grades at MVHS “speak highly of the school community.” 

“We have a lot of students who get a lot of A’s, B’s and C’s,” Clausnitzer said. “[But] we also want to be able to get better at supporting students who need extra time and support, and that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re just trying to be a little more calculated in our work for all students.”