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Association of California School Administrators
This high school is giving students the choice to improve failing grades from the first semester
March 1, 2021
This article was written by The Palmdale Aerospace Academy Principal Chris Fore.
Distance Learning was difficult in the first semester. There is no denying that. It was difficult for students, it was difficult for parents. For the first time in education (outside of a brief attempt last spring), we were providing and evaluating new content on a screen all day. And this time, it wasn’t just a pass/fail emergency attempt. It was for real. Real grades on real transcripts. Let’s admit it: this was not ideal for either teachers or students.
The grades reflected the struggles that both groups had. When those first progress reports came in, we recognized right away that we, like most of the nation, had a large spike in failing grades. Although our average daily attendance has been very high (ranging from 92 percent to 96 percent), work completion and success on assessments saw dramatic declines compared to last fall.
At the semester, we found that 310 of our 950 high school students failed a total of 904 classes. All told, we had a 15 percent increase in Ds and Fs, and 21 percent of our grades were Fs.
We simply had to do something to help our students.
Our administrative team started to discuss some options and look at what districts all around the country were doing. We contacted other principals and collaborated with friends around our area. We found that some were doing nothing, and some were encouraging teachers not to give students any Fs.
We didn’t think that either of these options were OK. Our vision at The Palmdale Aerospace Academy is “to prepare students for college and a wide variety of careers in the science and engineering fields, at the same time providing a ‘homegrown workforce’ for a wide variety of local high tech firms.” We agree that doing nothing about the lack of student engagement would not help us accomplish our vision. We also felt that telling teachers not to fail students would fail to prepare students for the “real world.” There has to be a middle ground.
Our Academy thrives on collaboration between administration and our wonderful teaching staff. So I went to them with this concept of Student Choice.
“What if we allowed our students to make up missing work and missing assessments from the first semester during the third quarter? What if a student could prove to you that they do have a firm grasp of your content through one assessment? Can we give our students grace because distance learning was so difficult for us all during the first semester?” These questions guided our discussion.
What we developed as a team was Student Choice. Words matter. This program starts with the student. We believe in that accountability for our students. Students must initiate their desire to improve their F to a D. And they must make a choice, and voice that choice to their teachers. Student Choice!
Student Choice is for any student in grades 6-12 who would like to recover their F grade from the first semester, but is obviously most important for high school students who must pass their classes to move toward graduation.
Students will be given an extension of time to complete any missing work and make up any tests to improve their grade from an F to a D, which is considered passing and will give these students credit for the course. Teachers are responsible for explaining to each of their classes how they will assist their students with this program.
Some teachers may require students to make up their missing work, some teachers may require students to take just one exam. This will be up to each teacher.
After laying out this program and agreeing on the concept with our teaching staff, I put together a proposal for our executive team and board of directors to compensate our teachers. We did not think it to be fair for teachers to do extra work during the second semester on first semester work. The board has approved for teachers to be compensated for their extra work on Student Choice, up to 10 hours. I created a Google sign-in form and policy to track their hours.
The next thing we did was market this program to our students and their parents and guardians. We blitzed our community through emails, phone calls, social media, a You Tube video and meeting with each grade level via a Zoom webinar. There is no way that a student or their family has not heard of Student Choice.
So now, the work begins! Students are making their choices. Teachers are extending grace. Parents are thankful. The administration is happy. It’s a wonderful picture of collaboration as we work toward our vision of preparing students for college and a wide variety of careers in the science and engineering fields.
Find resources created for the rollout of The Palmdale Aerospace Academy’s Student Choice program on the ACSA Resource Hub.
Chris Fore is in his first year as a principal and his first year at The Palmdale Aerospace Academy.