C will be the lowest grade in CA

“Oakland Unified among Calif. school districts phasing out D, F grades for high school students”

Lowest academic grade in CA will soon be the “C”

This is only part of the story. Students who do not do the work, or do it badly will still get a 0, it will just be in the form of an “I”, rather than a “D” or an “F”. It will not change the GPA.

What it will change is that if a student get a “0” on a course, they can retake the course and replace that grade with whatever they earn the second time.

Interesting, but I think that the idea needs more consideration and work - there are too many flaws in its present form which will not allow the system to achieve what it is supposed to achieve.

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Mastery clearly has different meanings to different people.


So if the lowest possible grade in high school is a C and the lowest grade in grad school is a C (has been a C for a long time), then what will soon be the lowest grade in undergrad school / university?

Just go there now…already

A lot of these initiatives are based on a program called Grading for Equity. LAUSD and some other districts are starting to adopt it. I’ve been studying it for over a year and am doing a lot of research on it for a Doctor of Business Administration program I’m in.

@MWolf is correct about why D’s and F’s would be phased out. While that’s not necessarily an automatic part of the program, not including 0’s in a grade and using an “incomplete” instead is. It forces kids to do the work. Right now when a kid gets a 0, it tanks their grade to a level that’s often unrecoverable and they aren’t given an opportunity to do it late. Many kids just give up at that point and stop doing any work because it’s almost impossible to pass a class with 0’s in their record. The “I” means that not only can a kid still do the assignment, but they are expected to. They don’t get out of the assignment.

The general idea is to test for mastery of the topic - regardless of when that happens in the semester. If a kid shows they completely understand the material by the end of the semester, their grade for the class will reflect that. Traditional grading penalizes the kids who learn slower even if they totally understand it by the end.

If anyone has any questions, I’ll be happy to answer them. But please, genuine questions only, no snark. I understand some of these ideas will be foreign and feel like “everyone gets a trophy”, but in actuality, the focus is on making sure kids actually understand the material and the grade is an accurate reflection of their understanding by the end of the class.


How is mastery shown and who determines the standards for each subject? Is it a national standard or set by the school, school district, state? How is this different than just allowing kids to redo assignments and tests until they get the grade they want? How many redos are permitted?

Also, in theory, giving an I instead of a D or an F, and allowing the student to redo the test or paper or homework could be beneficial in terms of learning the material but that’s not how college or jobs are structured. Deadlines exist. Also how do teachers pace the class and handle teaching the material if some kids aren’t grasping it and others are? If kids get multiple bites at the apple to complete work in high school how does that translate to handling college and the work place? Are there no circumstances under which a student fails a class? What happens if all the incomplete work isn’t finished by the end of the semester? Do the students repeat the class next semester? How does that affect classes in sequence? Is there any penalty for laziness and/or just milking the system?


I have a genuine question. My son is in an AP Physics class now where the teacher seems to be trying to adopt these standards based practices. She assigns a grade based on mastery. But how does the teacher determine mastery without some kind of examination, i.e., test? It seems like his teacher is just making subjective guesses about who understands what, and that subjectivity is affected by kids’ personalities, how much they talk in class, how much of a brown noser they are. How can mastery based grades be objective and reflect what is actually known without testing children on what they actually know? This is a genuine question (not a snarky one).
His teacher did not explain the system well at back to school night, the teacher has not clearly communicated what kind of standards and performance is expected of kids, and he has had no feedback about or idea regarding how he is performing in the class. It has been very stressful for him. It seems like she assigns grades based on some subjective impression of students because she doesn’t use exams to assess learning. I would love for someone to explain how mastery is supposed to be assessed in this system when kids are not tested on what they know. How is the teacher supposed to know what has been mastered? And honestly, I do understand that it is important for deadlines to be flexible, but there are deadlines in life and I don’t think it does service to kids to let them turn stuff in whenever they want (i.e., when they can earn as many “Is” as they want). For many kids, they get hopelessly behind when given the “no deadlines” option that it ends up backfiring and sinking them instead of helping them. I do love the idea of not penalizing kids who learn at a different rate, though. But it seems that at the end of the semester there would need to be a test, and there isn’t in my son’s physics class. Thank you for offering to shed some light on this! I have been perplexed by this approach, and dismayed at its impact on my son.


Oh wow, those were a lot of questions. LOL! I’m going to have to come back to answer them tomorrow when I can have my multiple monitors for side-by-side reading, responding, and writing. There’s no way I can address them all with my phone, tiny screen, and thumbs while lying in bed.

Those were a lot of great questions. I’ll be back tomorrow.

Btw, short answer for Physics… it doesn’t sound like the teacher is following the GfE recommendations at all. That teacher is probably following a different program or is winging it based on what feels right to them. I’ll explain why when I come back tomorrow.


Don’t feel obliged to answer all of my stream-of-consciousness questions, especially because it sounds like son’s physics teacher is just making stuff up as she goes along (she is probably the worst teacher he’s had in high school). But I am interested in learning more about this standards based approach and how mastery can be determined without objective testing, and I wonder what the research on standards based grading suggests regarding what to do to get these kids to finish their work when they are allowed as many incompletes as they want. For some kids, having so many assignments pile up will be just as immobilizing as getting zeros, which irreparably tank their grades.

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If the goal is for students to learn the material, then why not allow them to do exactly that? Setting aside the practical considerations of having time to get through all the material, why not allow a student to keep at something until they have it figured out? Rich kids do this all the time with standardized tests, don’t they? And how about musicians and athletes? Are they lesser because they practice and train until they figure it out?

There are other considerations of course, and other lessons learned in school, but with regard to mastery of the material, it seems like this makes more sense than moving before adequately figuring out the basics… Education is not a race.


There is testing. In fact, the grade is primarily based on summative assessments (Think unit tests, midterms, and finals) and not formative assessments (homework, quizzes, etc.) Summative assessments can be traditional tests or other methods designed to assess mastery of standards. The standards are established up front. They are the list of skills the students have to master by the end of the course.

Specifically in GfE, subjective assessments are flat out removed from the grade (e.g., participation, behavior, attendance). Homework is also removed from the grade and is just used to prepare students for quizzes which are used to prepare students for tests. The subjective assessments tend to skew grades and allow students who don’t understand the material to raise their grades masking the fact that they haven’t actually mastered the material. Likewise, those same subjective categories result in lower grades for kids who don’t turn in their homework regularly but ace the tests. A kid who gets A’s on their tests clearly understands the material but can wind up with a C if they regularly don’t turn in homework. Kids who don’t do well on quizzes, but spend the time to understand the material by the unit test can get an A on the unit test and still have a B for the unit because they didn’t do well early on in the quizzes and homework (when homework is graded and not just a binary done/not done) when learning is still supposed to be happening.

To answer one earlier question from the other poster (since I have the reply window open on my phone, I can’t see the other poster’s name)

  1. colleges are starting to look at grading this way also. It’s not just a K-12 issue, though at the moment, that’s where the predominance of data is coming from.
  2. life is not just full of one chance at things. If you don’t do well on many certification tests, you get to test again. Until you pass. Examples: the bar exam, driving tests, most professional certifications. Even most assignments in a professional environment can be improved after an initial submission. Yes, there are things that are one-and-done, but most of life isn’t actually that way. Think of all the things you’ve done that you had more than once chance. Educating children should be about whether they learn the skill or knowledge, not whether they learn it perfectly by a certain day. Many factors can go into whether or not a kid has a good day: not having had enough to eat, staying up late with a sick sibling because parents have to work multiple jobs, etc.

One of the big issues I’m studying is the fact that teachers have almost complete autonomy to establish their own grading methods. The problem comes with the fact that 98% of teachers feel their own grading practices are fair, equitable, and represent the student’s mastery of the subject, and reflect their readiness for the next level. But when asked if they feel their peer’s grading methods are the same, only 52% agree. That’s a major disconnect and a whole lot of “I’m right and you’re wrong”.


It’s more about time constraints in my opinion. If assignments, papers and test redos/retakes pile up kids might feel overwhelmed. In addition, how do you determine which kids are actually struggling with the material and those who just let it slide because they can.

It’s not a race but it’s not a leisure activity either. Are you suggesting kids could be in high school for 5 or 6 years instead of 4?

Definitely an interesting take on education. Guess we’ll see how it evolves over the next decade or so.

The GfE doesn’t dictate how the mastery is assessed. Nor does it dictate how the teacher should reassess the kids’ mastery. It provides ideas and examples, but encourages teachers to figure out what ways work best for them.

My kids’ AP Calc BC/Algebra 2+ teacher (they have the same teacher) is using variations of these methods even though she’s never read the book. (I recently interviewed her for one of my papers specifically because she hasn’t read it but still came up with a tremendous number of practices that align with GfE on her own.) She allows retakes after the kids have done some additional study and gone to school-sponsored tutoring. She has graded quizzes, unit tests, and midterms/finals. Homework is assigned at the beginning of the week and due at the end (Sunday, not Friday) so kids have a chance to budget their time throughout the week. If a kid does badly on a quiz but learns the material later and does well on that section of the unit test, the grade for that section of the unit test replaces the earlier quiz grade. The same will happen on the final. If the kid does better on a particular section of the final that represents the same material as a unit test, then the unit test grade is replaced.

The important part is that a summative assessment represents the knowledge the kids are supposed to have mastered by the end of the course. The material on these assessments should be familiar because the standards have been established, well communicated, and practiced throughout the course. If the kids master the material by the end, then they get that grade without being penalized for not learning it based on a rigid schedule.

As for telling the difference between kids who are struggling and those who just don’t care… a summative assessment is going to tell you who is struggling. Period. The motivation behind the struggle isn’t relevant. Kids who don’t care are still unlikely to intentionally get questions wrong. A wrong answer indicates the standard hasn’t been mastered.

Many times, the kids who don’t care are the one who have developed a defense mechanism of not caring because they feel they won’t succeed anyway based on past failures. These methods (including not accepting a 0) tell the kids that the teacher won’t accept not trying. It also communicates that the teacher believes the kid CAN master the material. Trying harder is rewarded rather than allowing early bad grades to stand. It gives hope and a reward for continuing to try. Often, under traditional grading, when a unit is over, the kids have very little motivation to try to learn it better. They brain dump and move on.

Kids can still get a C or an incomplete and have to take the class again. In the end, the kids’ grades will reflect their understanding.


Thank you for taking the time to explain all of that!


I think @s3 addresses the questions in your first paragraph. (This is new to me as a formalized approach, so I’m learning too.)

Again, I can’t speak for this program/approach, and I wasn’t suggesting anything specific. That said, I think kids would be better off if they developed some degree of mastery, even if it was over less material. As it is now, if they don’t get it by the time the class moves on, they’ll never catch up.

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For not having studied it, you’re definitely getting it. Your comment about kids currently not being ready to move on is absolutely correct.

Your posts are the Cliff’s Notes to my encyclopedias.

@vpa2019 as for the leisure activity question… you’re correct. Nothing can force a kid to engage. But 5-6 years for HS is already a reality for some kids. That’s where continuation HS’s and GED programs come in (or just dropping out and never completing HS). It’s unlikely kids would stay for an extra 1-3 years in regular schools. They’ll still wind up in Continuation or GED. But these GfE practices are designed to catch many of the kids who’d give up and wind up on that path and help them graduate on time WITH the knowledge that will allow them to start college without having to take the remedial math and English.

Bottom line: GfE does not inflate grades. It matches the grade to the kids’ levels of mastery.

What I don’t know is how GfE being adopted in these districts will work with the fact that teachers still get to establish their own grading practices. Will the districts override that? Will they use education to convince the teachers to adopt these methods? And a major obstacle is that experienced teachers have lived through many many ideas that created a lot of work (adjusting, reworking curriculum, etc) but were abandoned a few years later. Those will be some major hurdles to overcome. I’m eager to see how this shakes out in the districts that are adopting it.

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Seems like they will just be switching D/Fs for Incompletes. So Is will be the lowest grade.

I think there will need to be a good amount of training around implementation and I could see this having a lot of growing pains.

I’m totally Ok though with students not just automatically advancing to the next grade/course without mastery first. The bigger question is how to accurately assess mastery.

My D’s HS used a system very similar to what was described by @s318830, especially in the upper grades. Honestly, pretty similar to college grading. Most classes didn’t require homework to be turned in and assignments were assigned with plenty of notice for students to be able to manage their time/work. Homework was for the student to practice what was covered in class and identify areas that needs to be studied more in depth. My D had plenty of friends who were able to not look at the homework and still ace their tests. That wasn’t the case for her but I agree that if students can get As on tests, the homework just turns into busy work.


One of my kids had one of her AP hs classes structured this way. She found many of her classmates had issues managing their time, and didn’t even begin to take the material seriously until after the first try on the test, when they would then address their deficits. On the positive side, there was absolutely no stress in the class due to unlimited opportunities to improve; on the negative side, it did not remotely prepare them for any actual college course, and I do not know how the class performed on the AP test.

This explanation is so, so helpful. I really appreciate the time you took to answer our questions! I realize that for my son (and my now graduated daughter), a lot of their teachers were/are using some of these strategies (little weight given to homework, re-takes, flexibility with homework deadlines, etc.). Its the physics teacher who uses the term “standards based grading” and seems to be doing it wrong!

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How exactly do you educate kids, when you take out the education part? Discipline? Accountability? You can’t have education without that.