Parents express discontent over credit/no-credit; Board backs Austin

Ethan Hwang and Amy Lin

Despite parent criticism of the district’s recent shift to credit/no-credit grading, the Board of Education is standing behind Supt. Don Austin’s decision, according to comments made Tuesday night at a board meeting.

Specifically, parents criticized a March 25 memorandum of understanding signed by Deputy Superintendent Karen Hendricks and Teri Baldwin, president of the Palo Alto Educators Association. The document detailed the expectations for teachers during crisis learning, but, more controversially, established that the PAUSD would be the first school district in California to use credit/no-credit grading for the spring semester.

In a March 25 interview with The Paly Voice, Austin said that he was very confident that there would be an “avalanche of people [districts] following in [our] footsteps.” However, other school districts including the San Diego and Los Angeles Unified School Districts, have adopted a hold-harmless letter grade policy — letter grades that cannot drop after the school closure — which some parents argue are more equitable. Additionally, many Palo Alto parents say credit/no credit grading puts their students at a disadvantage when compared to students from districts with a hold-harmless letter grade policy.

Using emergency powers bestowed upon him at the emergency board meeting on March 12, Austin approved the signing of this document without a vote of approval from the board. Many parents said they prefer the approach taken by other school districts such as Pleasanton Unified School District. On April 16, PUSD held a special school board study session to evaluate different options from across California, and chose a hold-harmless letter grade model with a credit/no-credit option for students who earn Ds or Fs for the semester.

Austin said he believes his decision on credit/no-credit grading was justified. He said he spoke to the district’s instructional leads and many college admissions professionals, including Paul Kanarek from Princeton Review, before making his decision. At a webinar on Monday, Austin explained that the school profile — a document with general information about a district included in a student’s college application — would detail the district’s grading policy change and PAUSD students would not be disadvantaged compared to students from other districts.