Students attending Los Angeles public schools are facing astounding declines in academic performance. If you looked at their report cards, you’d hardly know it.
Despite a drop in test scores, a rising number of students in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) are receiving A’s, B’s, and C’s. The shift—where, in some grades and subjects, as many as four out of every five students receive A, B, and C grades, while only one in five met grade-level benchmarks—has left thousands of struggling students with limited access to academic help. The trend is likely the result of a districtwide policy encouraging grade inflation which has left many parents frustrated. “Everybody said [my son] was fine,” one mother told the Los Angeles Times. “He was getting those A’s and Bs… [but] it was not reflecting his understanding of the curriculum and his mastery of the curriculum.”
Scores of students attending LAUSD schools are attaining A’s, B’s, and C’s despite failing to meet grade-level benchmarks—a trend that bucks the district’s own policies, which require a C grade only when the student “understands state standards.” According to a recent Los Angeles Times report on the subject, among the district’s 11th graders, 73 percent earned A’s, B’s, and C’s, while only 19 percent met grade-level testing benchmarks. Among sixth graders, 85 percent earned A’s, B’s, and C’s, while only 40 percent met grade-level benchmarks.
Making matters worse, the number of students failing to meet academic standards—yet receiving A’s, B’s, and C’s—is growing, as the district’s test scores have plummeted after the pandemic, while their number of A, B, and C grades has climbed. According to the Los Angeles Times, in 2019, 67 percent of seventh graders earned an A, B, or C grade in math—a number that has increased to 77 percent in 2022. For that same period, the percentage of students meeting grade-level benchmarks in math declined by 4 percent.
This shift is no coincidence. According to the Los Angeles Times, the school district eliminated F’s during the spring 2020 semester due to concerns over the rapid shift to online learning. When the 2020–21 school year began, the district—where schools remained largely closed—saw an increase in the number of D and F grades. In response, district officials changed guidelines, giving students more time to make up missing work and retake tests. That policy was originally justified by officials claiming that many students lacked the resources to succeed at online learning. However, with pandemic school closures almost entirely a thing of the past, the district is keeping the pandemic-era policies, leading to current grade inflation.
District officials claim that LAUSD is in a “transitional period,” and that the new equity-based grading policies are meant to prevent teachers from lowering grades over behavior that is unrelated to subject mastery, like failing to turn in work.
“We’re promoting equitable grading practices that are more accurate in communicating what students actually know and what they are able to do and their skill sets, so that we can more specifically personalize the target student needs,” Frances Baez, the district’s chief academic officer, told the Los Angeles Times.
Though the district insists its grading guidelines will help disadvantaged students, many parents argue that grade inflation has hurt their children, holding them back by failing to identify academic struggles. As one parent told the Los Anegles Times, her son’s good grades seemed to be based on etiquette and behavior. “He was very polite. And he tried his best,” she said. “But trying is not the same as mastering the standards and curriculum.”
The widening gap between grades and actual academic performance shows the perils of letting concern for “equity” drive educational policy. In a quest to pass more disadvantaged students, Los Angeles public schools may in fact be failing them.
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is an assistant editor at Reason.
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