The 50% Minimum Rule: A Student Blessing or Curse?
During the 2020-2021 school year, all Rialto Unified School District (RUSD) students completed the year on distance learning. Since an alarming number of students were failing classes, the Rialto Unified School District implemented the 50% Minimum Grading Policy to help students stay afloat.
The American Psychological Association reports that “81% of teens (ages 13–17) have experienced more intense stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Last year during online classes, when I reached out to classmates I noticed them expressing a lack of motivation, depression and anxiety. Other students were dealing with the grief of losing a loved one to the battle against COVID-19. Other students were dealing with the burden of taking care of their little siblings since their parents had to work while juggling their own learning via Google Classroom.
Under this new policy, the lowest grade any student could receive on any assignment or test was 50%, even if the assignment was not turned in at all. Now, coming back to in-person classes, the 50% grading policy remained intact, and RUSD has begun to discuss the possibility of keeping the grading policy permanently under the idea of "grading for equity."
Equity means everyone is provided with what they need to succeed. While equality means everyone is treated the same exact way, regardless of need or individual differences. So isn't this new grading system more so equality rather than equity? There are students at Rialto High School who need the 50% grading system due to their personal difficulties. However, teachers also claim that many students who are not under personal circumstances are now becoming less motivated in actively learning due to this new "safety blanket."
Thus, this new grading policy has become a center of heated debate among teachers.
U.S. History teacher Mrs. Susan Pechinko says, "Last year it was understandable due to the past circumstances, but it can not remain permanent. Now grades are becoming inflated in my classes, and this can possibly lead to A.P. disaccreditation. Students should not be able to miss a whole quarter and be able to pass, especially in an A.P. class." Pechinko describes how normally her class averages are in the low 70s/60s but are now in the high 70s for her regular U.S. History classes and the two AP US History classes. She also expresses concerns that if the College Board found out the grading policy, all A.P. classes in RUSD High Schools could face the challenge of being discredited due to the "advantage" present.
When asked about the 50% grading policy, junior Elide Carbajal said, "I feel like I am grateful for the 50% rule because it is easier for students to raise their grades. Some students have mental health issues, and this relieves some stress from a missing assignment. But I can see how some students can feel like they are working harder than other students."
Junior Ivan Mendez agrees saying, “It could be beneficial for those who get unmotivated because instead of seeing their grade at a zero they see it at 50 so they see it as motivation to put their grade up.”
One RHS teacher, who wished to remain anonymous due to feeling uncomfortable speaking out against school administration, expressed concerns that this 50% grading system is "not helping prepare students for the real world where you need to work for achievement." They argue that the automatic 50% bump is "sending students off with a false sense of their understanding," and continue saying, "In some other subjects, it can be more applicable, but it is not beneficial in math where ideas build upon each grade."
The teacher continues expressing discontent by stating that they have seen "less motivation in the students." In the past, this teacher has allowed students who worked diligently but could not get that grade they wanted to match their final to their grade or replace a past score with the final score. The teacher believes that this taught resilience while not wholly giving students 49% of a free grade. However, now with the 50% system, they will no longer offer this opportunity this school year.
English 9 and AVID 9 teacher, Mr. Kevin Robert is also against the possibility of permanency of the grading policy and states that the policy, “Shows that the district thinks that the students are not capable of passing their classes.” He continues that, “Even if the students commit plagiarism they will have 50%. What is this teaching the students?”
Senior, Eric Rojas disagrees saying that, "I think it'd be nice for the policy to stay, it's a nice way for students who are unable to complete assignments on time for personal reasons to not take such a large hit to their grades." Senior Ishmael Razo agrees, stating, "Overall, it's great in terms of having higher student GPA averages per school because the lowest you can get is 50."
Freshman, Yollany Ortega comments that the 50% rule is beneficial “When teachers only give you one day to do an assignment sometimes you can’t do the assignment,” while freshman Valerie Menesses agrees stating, “It’s better than a zero.”
Physics teacher Mr. Julien Ansermet commented, "Originally I was totally against it because it lowered the expectation level since there is minimum effort required to pass. But since I read the book, Dr. Sweeney [RHS principal] suggested, “Grading for Equity,” which talks about how if 50% is the lowest grade, then it only takes 10% increments to reach the next grade, it makes it more equitable." However, like Pechinko, Ansermet worries about the grade inflation present. “When I look at grades now, it makes me wonder if this is reflecting how students are doing.”
Both Ansermet and Pechinko favor changing the grading system to a point system. Students could receive a 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5, which would "not give off this idea that we are completely giving away 49% for free so it would keep the students motivated,” says Ansermet. This type of point grading system is what the book, Grading for Equity, supports. Ansermet adds that it would be “a happy medium between that of students not being faced with the challenge of a gap between zero to fifty, but it would keep the grading system fair to all students.”
Junior Emily Viera approves of the current 50% system saying, “Sometimes tests and assignments are unfair and it helps us not feel overwhelmed in school.” Junior Breanna Barriga agrees adding, “If something happens it’s easier to pick yourself up again.”