California School Districts Look to Remove D’s and F’s to Satisfy “Equity” Concerns

Written by William Hale

Schools all across California will become less academically rigorous in an effort to satisfy “equity” of outcome among all students. In some of the largest school districts in California such as Los Angeles Unified, Oakland Unified, Sacramento City Unified, and San Diego Unified, new policy will prohibit students from earning grades worse than a “C”. With this new approach called “mastery-based learning,” failing will no longer be a possibility.

Instead students who don’t demonstrate a grade of “C” — who would typically receive a “D” or “F” — will be marked as “incomplete” for any given class. Some education reform activists have been advocating for mastery-based learning for years, but the disastrous online learning policies, and subsequent drop in academic performance following the COVID-19 pandemic has motivated school districts to lower their academic standards. Proponents of mastery-based learning justify the removal of D’s and F’s by insisting that the policy will “improve high schoolers’ chances of getting into the UC and CSU systems.”

But this new strategy fails to address the root of the problem in California education, because simply removing the potential for academic failure doesn’t actually help students learn and comprehend material, rather it could incentivize students to give even less effort than before. Oakland math and science teacher Debora Rinehart says that she “will never lie about their [students] knowledge level. Not reporting Ds and Fs is the equivalent of lying about a student’s progress.”

Unfortunately this kind of manipulation of educational standards isn’t uncommon in California. Since 2014 San Francisco Unified has delayed Algebra 1 until 9th grade in order to lower the number of Black, Latino and low-income students failing the class in 8th grade. 

We should not lie to our young people if they demonstrate academic insufficiency, as failing a math test won’t be the last time students fall short at something in their lives. Mastery-based learning sounds slick, but will ultimately do more damage to young Californians in the long-term.

Photo Cred: Walter Cicchetti/Shutterstock.