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Few San Diego Unified families took advantage of grade relief under AB 104

About 290 students applied for pass/no pass grades
San Diego Unified
Posted at 6:07 PM, Aug 23, 2021

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Few families in the San Diego Unified School District took advantage of a law designed to help students whose grade point averages suffered during the school shutdowns in 2020.

About 290 students submitted requests to change grades to “pass or no pass” under AB 104, a district spokesman told ABC 10News Monday. The deadline for San Diego Unified’s roughly 36,000 high school students to apply for the one-time transcript relief was August 17.

By contrast, 689 students in the San Dieguito Union High School District in Encinitas requested a grade change for the 2020-21 school year, according to associate superintendent Bryan Marcus. That’s nearly 8 percent of the district’s roughly 9,000 high school students.

The low uptake in San Diego Unified, the state’s second-largest school district, will likely raise questions about the effort to notify families about the benefits of AB 104. Some education experts expressed concern that families who lack reliable internet access might not find out about the bill until it was too late.

“Are these policies being taken advantage of by those who need them the most?” asked UC San Diego education professor Amanda Datnow.

Families in San Diego Unified had just 15 days to submit paperwork after the district sent out letters August 2.

“Many families don’t keep up with school communication as frequently in the summer,” Datnow said via email. “Even if families did receive the information, there may not have been time for them to have their questions answered so that they could make an informed decision.”

San Diego Unified’s own academic performance data was cited in the rationale for AB 104, authored by San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez. The governor signed the bill July 1 after legislators passed it on an emergency basis.

SDUSD reported that 21 percent of its high school students got a D or an F in the 2020-21 school year, up from 15 percent the year prior. The percentage of middle school students who earned a D or an F saw an even larger jump, from 13 percent to 23 percent.

In its letter to parents, San Diego Unified discouraged families from seeking a “no pass” designation for a D or an F, saying it would make students ineligible for a grade-boosting benefit called “suppression” and negatively impact their GPA.

The “pass” option was intended for students whose C or B during distance learning threatened to lower their GPA, Gonzalez said.

The assemblywoman said she was considering additional legislation to extend the deadline to apply for a grade change until October. In the meantime, she encouraged districts to extend deadlines voluntarily.

“I will say we’re a little disappointed with the lack of flexibility with some of the districts,” Gonzalez said. “If you feel like you missed [the deadline], contact the school district. Really push.”

The Poway Unified School District told ABC 10News Monday it would extend the deadline for families to apply for a pass/no pass grade, citing the heavy workload on staff who have been busy getting school sites ready.

The multi-faceted law also gives high school students the chance to retake classes or enroll in a 5th year if they're at risk of not graduating; lifts certain graduation requirements not mandated by the state, such as community service; and gives families the right to petition districts to hold their student back a grade, a process known as retention.

San Diego Unified said it was still determining how many students applied for a retention hearing under AB 104.

San Dieguito Unified said 15 high school students requested hearings, along with 7 students in the 7th or 8th grades. The district has 30 days to schedule the hearing and another 10 days to render a decision.