More union-induced GPA inflation

Lance Christensen

Vice President, Education Policy & Government Affairs

Lance Christensen
August 5, 2021

More union-induced GPA inflation

It’s not everyday that a parent gets an email from their school district telling them that they can change their child’s grade if they didn’t like the last one. It’s even more surreal that the legislature thought that this was a good policy.

With few exceptions, nearly every legislator voted to approve AB 104 by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher. The bill creates a process in which parents can request their students forgo a letter grade in a failing class and, instead, receive a “pass” or “no pass” grade. State colleges will also be required to accept “pass” for admission.

But who could blame the legislature for passing such a bill? The majority party has done all it can cover for the teachers’ unions who have failed our kids over the last 18 months. Indeed, the Assembly Floor analysis states some alarming statistics.

“A number of school districts reported an increase of Ds and Fs in the fall semester of 2020. The Los Angeles Unified School District reported a year-over-year increase of 8.7% increase in grades 9-12 and an increase of 12.4% in middle school, in the percentage of Ds and Fs earned. Students experiencing homelessness had the highest percent of “fail” marks at 39.9%. The San Diego Unified School District reports that the percentage of students who received D and F grades rose from 13% to 23% for middle school students and from 15% to 21% for high school students. Similar patterns have been reported in a number of Bay Area school districts.”

As high as the numbers are for those receiving Ds and Fs, it’s not clear that many teachers were grading on a curve among the kids in their classes. These letter grade statistics represent students who are legitimately failing while attending some combination of Zoom school or hybrid on-campus classes. They likely don’t account for the students with incomplete grades or those that didn’t show up to school other than to check-in over a semester. In Los Angeles Unified, during the end of the 2019-20 school year, on average, only 60 percent of the students were active every day. Their data suggests that just under 10 percent of the kids did nothing more than check-in one time during the last 3 months of school. And any reasonable teacher will be honest that if they did grade on the curve, it was more likely that the Cs they passed out this last year — a palatable grade for most families and not covered in AB 104 — could have been Ds or Fs in pre-COVID semesters.

While it is understandable that parents would want to cover the most egregious outcomes of a lost educational opportunity, let’s remember why the legislature was complicit in grade dilution: the teachers’ unions and their failure to put students first.

Roughly 10 percent of K-12 aged kids go to private schools and were able to keep a decent schedule of in class instruction. For the kids that wanted a homeschool experience to avoid near constant screen time, charter schools were an excellent option. Rather than allow for some flexibility at the margins, especially when many public district schools could not handle a remote or homeschool-lite option for their students, the union convinced the legislature to cap funds that would go to the charter schools to receive more students. Thousands of parents sat on waiting lists for the whole year to no avail, so they would be forced to send their kids to union-run schools.

The cost of the loss of education is going to be tremendous for most of the school students that endured a year of lockdowns and unbalanced public health mandates. Colleges are going to be mindful of deflated grades and make the best assessment of who should be admitted to their institution of higher learning and what amount of remediation is going to be required for them to succeed. But rather than clean the GPAs of our learning lost kids, perhaps we should give our teachers union a “failing” grade.

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