Berkeley school district addresses participation, grading concerns

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Updates focused on grading and student participation regarding the Berkeley Unified School District Distance Learning Plan were presented during Wednesday’s regular board meeting.

The school district’s online learning program was launched April 6 and the first week of remote instruction was met with some difficulties, including a “Zoombombing” incident during a lecture. Google Meet has been the main source of live interaction between students and teachers since the school district temporarily suspended the use of Zoom.

An official decision on whether BUSD schools will remain closed for the rest of the semester was scheduled for the meeting, but according to BUSD spokesperson Trish McDermott, this decision has been rescheduled for the next board meeting.

Superintendent Brent Stephens and Berkeley Schools Excellence Program director Natasha Beery led a presentation to the board with statistics from the first week of distance learning. Notably, the school district has provided an average of 5,235 meals per week and distributed 2,500 laptops.

Stephens also presented statistics on student participation during distance learning. The school district used the number of online sessions attended, the percentage of work completed and the number of teacher requests that a student be contacted for support as indicators of participation.

During the first week, the school district found that 82% of all its students satisfied these participation indicators. Among student demographics that displayed one or more indicators of nonparticipation were students who are in special education, have serious emotional disabilities, are English learners and are Black.

While these statistics are preliminary and only based on the first week of the Distance Learning Plan, Stephens said the data clearly show the “digital divide” among student demographics.

“It confirms what we thought would be the case,” Stephens said at the meeting.

The school district’s grading transition from letter grades to pass/no pass was a point of discussion, which was first announced in a districtwide email sent April 10. Stephens clarified that it will be up to teachers’ discretion as to what deems a pass or no pass for a class. If a student is at risk of receiving a “no pass” in the class, teachers are expected to reach out to the students’ families before the semester ends.

Decisions on whether schools will reopen in the fall have not yet been made.

Stephens added that the school district must reconfigure schools’ physical capacities in the midst of social distancing and COVID-19. A hybrid model of learning with both in-person and distance learning may be considered for the 2020-2021 academic year, according to Stephens.

“This is a day that none of us ever prepared for or expected to come. All of our institutions are turning on a dime,” said BUSD board member Julie Sinai at the meeting. “I have confidence that we will continue to move forward knowing that there will be bumps and rocks along the way.”

Julie Madsen is the lead schools and communities reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Julie_Madsen_.