Written by Sheryl Chen and Katie Doran

In August of this year, M-A students had the option to change letter grades on their 2020-2021 transcript to “Pass” or “No Pass,” due to California Assembly Bill 104 (AB104). In recognition of the challenges of COVID-19 and distance learning, the policy aims to protect students’ GPAs, which will not be affected by a Pass/No Pass grade.

M-A college counselor Mai Nguyen explained, “For many students, distance learning was not ideal, and there could have been many obstacles and barriers that made learning from home extremely difficult. For example, lack of reliable internet access, having to take care of younger siblings while parents worked. AB104 is intended to help those students who could not perform at their best, and I applaud that.”

District-wide, students requested for a total of 2,535 classes to be changed to Pass/No Pass out of more than 10,000 students in SUHSD. The school breakdown has not been released yet.

One anonymous student said, “Last year was my hardest school year. I was constantly struggling to meet deadlines, and my GPA dropped, so I chose to change two grades to Pass/No Pass. I didn’t want those grades to reflect me as a student, since the situation was different.”

Still, students were recommended to show caution in changing their grades. At the Board’s Fall Meeting on August 4, they only advised students to use Pass/No Pass for classes in which they received Ds. This is largely due to their uncertainty in the college admissions process. The California State University schools and UCs have already expressed their willingness to accept Pass/No Pass grades on applicant transcripts, although only a handful of private universities have also addressed the change. Schools that will accept Pass/No Pass grades are listed here

Nguyen explained, “I doubt that many colleges outside of California would release statements specifically in response to AB104, so changing letter grades to pass or no pass would probably not be a wise choice for applying out-of-state.” 

The same student from above said, “I am still not 100% sure what this means for college, but I’d rather start with a blank slate.”

Another complication was the short time frame for requesting Pass/No Pass changes. To change a grade to Pass/No Pass, M-A students could fill out an application request for their district. Those forms were due August 15th, 16 days after the district first announced the opportunity. The District sent calls home to every family regarding Pass/No Pass, although some families in the district were unable to complete the paperwork in time, on top of the time it took to deliberate the decision to opt into Pass/No Pass. 

Districts like Palo Alto Unified School District only announced their process with AB104 four days before the deadline. One of Palo Alto High School’s college counselors Sandra Cernobori said to the Paly Voice, “‘Many schools didn’t even start [before the deadline for a grade change submission]. And if school hasn’t even started, how are they going to know… ’”  

Given the uncertainty, some students chose not to change their D and F grades to Pass/No Pass. Another anonymous student said, “I’m ordinarily a pretty academically inclined person, but last year, especially the first semester, was really hard for me.” However, she chose not to use the Pass/No Pass option. She explained, “I want colleges to see improvement without confusion, and a bunch of Pass grades in semester one followed by good grades thereafter is strange. Building a pick-yourself-up story, cliché as it is, matters for seeking out college education.”

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